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Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation Hardcover – 7 Oct 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; First Edition edition (7 Oct 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184614051X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846140518
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 3.1 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 282,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Stimulating and insightful ... like one of the reefs that initially baffled Darwin and are so admired by Johnson - a huge diversity of bright ideas co-exist happily without destroying or spoiling each other (John Gapper FT )

About the Author

Steven Johnson is the author of the US bestsellers The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, Everything Bad Is Good For You, and Mind Wide Open, as well as Emergence and Interface Culture. He is the founder of a variety of influential websites - currently, outside.in - and is a contributing editor to Wired.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By M. Hillmann on 15 Nov 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The common image of the individual operating alone in the laboratory dreaming up brilliant flashes of inspiration is countered by Johnson with the argument that ideas are generated by crowds where connection is more important than protection.

Steven Johnson's technique is the personalisation of his theme, drawing unexpected conclusions from the personal story and then weaving it into the next story. For example he brings to life through stories his assertion that good ideas are built on previous work and depend upon the variety of other stimuli around them. He recounts how in the late 1870's a Parisian obstetrician named Stephane Tarnier took a day off from his work at Maternite de Paris and paid a visit to the nearby Paris Zoo where chicken eggs were being incubated. It gave Tarnier the inspiration to develop incubation for babies leading to a medical advance that rivals any more well known innovations, such as radiation therapy or double heart bypass, in terms of giving humans longer life. Then follows the sequel about Timothy Prestero, an MIT professor who visited the Indonesian city of Meulaboh after the 2004 Indian Tsunami. He discovered that eight baby incubators, donated by a range of international organisations, were broken down through lack of spare parts. Prestoro and his team decided to build an incubator out of car parts that were abundant in the developing world - an idea that had originated with a Boston doctor named Jonathon Rosen. From this Johnson asserts that good ideas develop like this NeoNurture incubator. "The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Chris ap Alfred on 14 Nov 2010
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed Steven Johnson's "Ghost Map", but have found his other books curiously unsatisfying, rather like having a skinny latte for lunch and realising a few hours later that something more substantial was needed. This latest one I found particularly frothy.

The problem is that I think I know something about the area. My professional career has been spent in the area of scientific discovery, invention and market innovation, I think the three are highly distinct, and saw little benefit in Johnson's amalgamation into an all-embracing category of "good ideas". The processes for discovery, invention, and the reduction to practice which constitutes innovation are distinctly different. The great chemical technolgies of the 20th century (nitrogen fixation, oil refining, dyestuffs, for example) all owe their existence to human efforts and organisations outside Johnson's model. And what does he make of crop rotation, possibly the most important agricultural technology of all?

Of course there are good bits, and it was very pleasing to see Stuart Kaufmann's notion of "the adjacent possible" given some time. This idea is the basis not just of evolution and invention, but also is the basis of how politics and politicians work, at least in a democracy.

What I missed was any sense of how institutions shape the posibility of new ideas, especially the growth of universities, think tanks and research laboratories. Of course Google and Apple featured, but they would, wouldn't they?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By E. Lenderking on 18 Nov 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The subject of innovation is one of the great hot current cults in business and management thinking, so what good a new book on such a well trodden patch?

Steven Johnson comes at the subject with his usual clarity, penchant for clear structure in his thinking, and almost total avoidance of jargon. This is a great advantage when comparing this book to any of the hundreds of titles on the subject written by business gurus, business school professors, etc. What results is a lucid, very readable, in depth analysis of the process of innovation.

I also found this book particularly valuable because the framework Mr. Johnson lays out lends itself beautifully to practical application.

Finally, the stories and illustrations the author uses to support his thesis are not the usual stories that one reads in books of this kind--in other words not the well trodden cases. When he does refer to histories that we all know, his emphasis and focus is fresh and aspects of the story that we might not have known, so the effect is convincing, and also entertaining.

This book goes down easy, which is an absolute rarity for one dealing with such a complex subject. I can't think of a more stimulating book I have ever read on the subject of strategy, innovation, business, etc. A must read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Baldwin VINE VOICE on 16 Jan 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book - it provides further evidence against the idea that creativity is something that happens to lone individuals in a flash, something that is annoyingly peddled in many books and institutions, especially art colleges where students are encouraged to sit alone, waiting for inspiration to strike.
The truth is, good ideas come from the clash of knowledge and speculation that occurs when people from different backgrounds get together and talk. The coffee shops of the Enlightenment provide a good example of this, but more recent instances of serendipitous conversations between people from medicine and electronics, to take just one example, lead to the innovations we take for granted today.
This is a salutory lesson for governments (or the present British govt in particular) which is seeking to force universities to specialise in "economically beneficial" subjects such as science, maths and engineering, without understanding that economic benefit stems both from the mixture of all those disciplines and the arts and humanities and, more importantly, usually from ideas and discoveries made just for the sheer hell of it. People who begin researching a specific question with a clear economic advantage don't seem half as productive as those who pursue one simply because it is interesting. The latter group of people often find things out that are combined with other ideas to produce something advantageous.
The lesson of this book is that good ideas come from accidental collisions of thinking that derives from the sheer joy of thinking. The idea that universities should abandon thinking for the hell of it in favour of serving the economy is a short road to nowhere.
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