Where Good Ideas Come From

I recently finished reading Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From“. This is a rather interesting book which takes a walk through history looking at how good ideas come to be.

The central thesis is that “Eureka” moments — typified by a loan genius working on some problem having a breakthrough idea — are hard to come by. The author looks at a number of different examples, many of which are often attributed to individuals, and finds that more often than not, those ideas actually build closely on the work of others. For example, [[James Watt]] is often cited as the inventor (e.g. [1][2]) of the [[Steam engine]], when in fact he was one of many who refined it over several decades or more. Of course, he also identifies exceptions to the rule, such as [[Johannes Gutenberg]] who made a significant individual leap by inventing the [[Printing press]].

The argument focuses on how networks and connectivity are central to innovation. The author considers the [[Renaissance]] here — an important period in history that saw significant changes in both art, science and politics. This dramatic increase in innovation is attributed to the rise of urban living around this time because, with more people now being located together, there was a much greater opportunity for social networks to develop. More recently, the rise of the internet is considered in detail, as this is clearly a significant development in the realm of human connectivity.

Overall, I highly recommend this book — it was a very enjoyable read which covered numerous interesting and historic examples of great inventions and inventors. You can find more here and here. And, there’s a great TED video here:

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