Monday, November 11, 2013

Where Good Ideas Come From

Warning: This is not about *stock* ideas. Instead, it's a review of a book I came across through a Bill Gates recommendation: Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson.

The perception appears to be that innovations come from "eureka" moments; at least, this is how new ideas are depicted in popular culture, even those "based on a true story". A great idea takes a genius by surprise, who goes on to design and execute the idea to perfection, and voila.

Johnson argues that this is not how it usually happens in real life. For one thing, the patterns that emerge behind most innovations involve more than one person. If it is only one person, he is often building on recent work that has pushed the innovation to within spitting distance. The innovation is also often inter-disciplinary, combining ideas from one discipline with the existing platforms that already exists on another. They are also often the result of error, and on finding applications where that unexpected error can bear fruit.

However, in my opinion the best part of the book is the conclusion, where Johnson discusses the policy implications for these patterns of innovations. What is it that we should be doing differently when it comes to things like patent law or organizational structures in order to help grow the pace of innovation?

The book is available here.

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