Tag Archives: Steven Johnson

Where Good Ideas Come From By Johnson; Doing Both By Sidhu – Two Great Choices for the December 3 First Friday Book Synopsis

This morning, with nearly 90 people present, we presented our synopses of Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership by Tim Irwin and Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.  It was a terrific morning!  (Handouts, with audio, will be available on our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com, in about two weeks).

And special thanks to Kelly Lane and The Association for Women in Communications and the Dallas Freelance Alliance for their sponsorship this morning.  Because of their sponsorship, we had five copies of each of the books to give away (we normally give away only one copy of each book).  So, a big thank you to Kelly and both of these organizations.

Next month, December 3, we will present synopsis of these two books:

Doing Both:  How Cisco Captures Today’s Profit and Drives Tomorrow’s Growth by Inder Sidhu, with guest presenter Cathy Groos (Karl Krayer will be out of town).

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson, which I will present.  I have already done a quick take of this book – it is profound!

I hope you will mark your calendar, and plan to join us on December 3.





“Slow Hunches” Trump “Epiphanies” – Steven Johnson on “Where Good Ideas Come From”

Steven Johnson is the author of “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History Of Innovation” my selection for the December First Friday Book Synopsis.  This is an important book.  Recently, Johnson wrote this article on the Huffington Post:  Steven Johnson’s ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’: 6 Brilliant, World-Changing Mistakes.  It includes some photos, with details, so click though to take a look.  Here is his introduction to his specific examples:

For the past four years, I’ve been investigating the history of great ideas: the scientific, technological, and creative breakthroughs that have come to define the modern world — and the environments that made them possible. That research led me to my new book,Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History Of Innovation,” but along the way, it also led me to a surprising discovery about the minds and workspaces that generated some of history’s great innovations: they were remarkably error-prone.

“In all probability,” British Economist William Stanley Jevons wrote in 1874, “the errors of the great mind exceed in number those of the less vigorous one.” Making mistakes turns out to be a strangely generative process: it sends you down a new path, allows an interesting new connection to form in your mind. The history of being spectacularly right has a shadow history lurking behind it: a much longer history of being spectacularly wrong, again and again. (For a rich philosophical take on this subject, I recommend Kathryn Schulz’s book, “Being Wrong.”) And not just wrong, but messy. A shockingly large number of transformative ideas in the annals of science can be attributed to contaminated laboratory environments. Great scientists and inventors seem to have an openness to the serendipitous discoveries that happen when you accidentally knock over the tissue sample, or misinterpret the data from the last experiment. As one great inventor, Ben Franklin, put it: “Truth is uniform and narrow; it constantly exists, and does not seem to require so much an active energy, as a passive aptitude of soul in order to encounter it. But error is endlessly diversified.”

Take a look at his specific examples — In that spirit, a short tour of some of history’s most brilliant and world-changing mistakes (click here):

Innovation Flows from Good Ideas – Insight from Steven Johnson

“You need an idea.”
The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark:  random and chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight.  There is nothing yet to research.  For me, these moments are not pretty.  I look like a desperate woman, tortured by the simple message thumping away in my head:  “You need an idea.”
You need a tangible idea to get you going.  The idea, however miniscule, is what turns the verb into a noun – paint into a painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.
Even though I look desperate, I don’t feel desperate, because I have a habitual routine to keep me going.
I call it scratching.  You know how you scratch away at a lottery ticket to see if you’ve won.  That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece.  I’m digging through everything to find something.  It’s like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward.
The unshakeable rule:  you don’t have a really good idea until you combine two little ideas.
(Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit)


As I have often said, I believe this:  “the more you know, the more you know.” The more you read, the more you hear, the more you experience, the deeper the reservoir of “stuff” that you have to draw from in any and every situation.

In the new book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson, the author makes the case that good ideas come from such a reservoir within.  I have already chosen this book as my selection for the December First Friday Book Synopsis, and now I have read this article on the Daily Beast about the author and his book:   The Origin of Good Ideas by Joshua Robinson.  Here are some excerpts:

Sparks of brilliance, Johnson argues, are actually more like slow burns that develop in places, such as universities, that are teeming with ideas. Even wrong ideas help. An expectant genius waiting for the muse to deliver a fully formed, humanity-advancing idea into his lap can be kept waiting for a long time. Things like evolutionary theory, the internet, and the printing press did not appear miraculously in a dream. Or on a piece of burnt toast.

“I didn’t want it to be a straight sort of business, self-help, management-type book—which I have no interest in writing,” he says. “I did want it to have a feeling where you read it and think, ‘Oh yeah, I could use that.’ When you succeed in writing an idea-book, it becomes this platform that other people get to build on, or take and put to new uses.”

On the final page of the book, he summarizes how the abstract patterns can be applied practically in everyday life to foster more creative, open environments. “Go for a walk,” he writes, “cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent.”

All innovation comes from good ideas.  So learning how to find good ideas is a pretty good challenge to tackle.  And since innovation is one of the great needs in business, and society, I suspect this will be a fun and valuable book.

You can watch Steven Johnson’s Ted Talk, Where Good Ideas Come From, here.

Update:  I’ve now watched the video, and  can”t wait to read the book.  He talks about the value of a “slow hunch,” he begins and ends with a great coffee house story, and his last line is: “Chance favors the connected mind.” The video is worth watching!