Johnson–writer, Web guru, and bestselling author of Everything Bad Is Good for You–delivers a sweeping look at innovation spanning nearly the whole of human history. What sparks our great ideas? Johnson breaks down the cultural, biological, and environmental fuel into seven broad “patterns,” each packed with diverse, at times almost disjointed anecdotes that Johnson synthesizes into a recipe for success. A section on “slow hunches” captivates, taking readers from the FBI’s work on 9/11 to Google‘s development of Google News. A section on error takes us through a litany of accidental innovations, including the one that eventually led to the invention of the computer. “Being right keeps you in place,” Johnson reminds us. “eing wrong forces us to explore.” It’s eye-opening stuff–although it does require an investment from the reader. But as fans of the author’s previous work know, an investment in Johnson pays off, and those who stick with the author as he meanders through an occasional intellectual digression will come away enlightened and entertained, and with something perhaps even more useful–how to recognize the conditions that could spark their own creativity and innovation.
In my years as a Wall Street strategy advisor and as a life-long student of that which propels us towards our greatest potential, I am fascinated by an interesting structural tension when it comes to personal and professional excellence.
We have at our finger tips, some of the greatest knowledge, tools and processes that can help propel people and organizations towards excellence and yet despite this vast wealth of information, many people (and the organizations they are associated with) struggle.
After exploring many theories over the years, I think I just realized why this is the case and I am staggered by the implications.
I have just finished reading “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson (author of “Everything Good is Bad For You” and “The Invention of Air”) and found the ideas contained within to be of staggering profundity.
A Different View on Creativity
With no offence intended towards well-intentioned individuals within organizations who come up with interesting ways to help us be more creative, I have often struggled with the value of some of the ideas they have come up with. Some examples come to mind, including the time I flew across the country for a mandatory, all-hands meeting where we played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or another time when I travelled across the country for a mandatory meeting where the primary thing that was accomplished was a competition to see who could build a toy helicopter out of Lego Blocks the fastest.
When I asked people why we were doing these things, I was informed that it was to help us learn to be more creative. I learned something alright but it was not what they hoped I had learned. By the way, I won the helicopter competition, so there are no sour grapes here. :-)
As I read Steven Johnson’s book, I realized why we struggle with how to be more creative.
It’s because we spend too much time trying to experience an extrinsic-centric learning event when we should be refining the foundational components of what makes a human being a source of unlimited creativity.
As I read his book, I realized why we are often more hit-than-miss when it comes to increasing our potential for creativity. His book also helped me understand why our creativity sometimes grows in leaps and bounds while at other times, we seem unable to recreate this experience, making our growth in creativity seem frustratingly random or lucky.
Seven Key Principles
Mr. Johnson’s engaging writing style guides us through seven key areas that must be understood in order to maximize our creativity, the key areas being:
1. The adjacent possible – the principle that at any given moment, extraordinary change is possible but that only certain changes can occur (this describes those who create ideas that are ahead of their time and whose ideas reach their ultimate potential years later).
2. Liquid networks – the nature of the connections that enable ideas to be born, to be nurtured and to blossom and how these networks are formed and grown.
3. The slow hunch – the acceptance that creativity doesn’t guarantee an instant flash of insight but rather, germinates over time before manifesting.
4.Serendipity – the notion that while happy accidents help allow creativity to flourish, it is the nature of how our ideas are freely shared, how they connect with other ideas and how we perceive the connection at a specific moment that creates profound results.
5. Error – the realization that some of our greatest ideas didn’t come as a result of a flash of insight that followed a number of brilliant successes but rather, that some of those successes come as a result of one or more spectacular failures that produced a brilliant result.
6. Exaptation – the principle of seizing existing components or ideas and repurposing them for a completely different use (for example, using a GPS unit to find your way to a reunion with a long-lost friend when GPS technology was originally created to help us accurately bomb another country into oblivion).
7. Platforms – adapting many layers of existing knowledge, components, delivery mechanisms and such that in themselves may not be unique but which can be recombined or leveraged into something new that is unique or novel.
Insight That Resonates
Mr. Johnson guides the reader through each of these seven areas with examples that are relevant, doing so in a way that hits the reader squarely between the eyes. I found myself on many an occasion exclaiming inwardly “This idea or example is brilliant in its obviousness and simplicity”.
“Where Good Ideas Come From” is a book that one must read with a pen or highlighter in hand as nuggets pop out and provide insight into past or current challenges around creativity and problem solving.
When someone decides to explore ways of helping you or your organization be more creative and they are getting ready to explore a rah-rah session, an offsite brain-storming session or they are looking to play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, ask them if they have explored the foundational reasons behind what makes us creative.
And then buy a copy of this book for them.
I believe this book should be mandatory reading for every student, teacher and leader.
We are all students of Life.
We all at some point, teach others.
And if we accept that a leader is someone who influences others and we acknowledge that everyone influences someone at some point, then we are all leaders also.
Educational institutions, governments and corporations should make this book mandatory reading for everyone within their walls.
“Where Good Ideas Come From” is a fun read as well as a profound one.
May your creativity blossom as a result of exploring it.
Create a great day.