Where Good Ideas Come from Essay Example
Where Good Ideas Come from Essay Example

Where Good Ideas Come from Essay Example

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  • Pages: 4 (1042 words)
  • Published: October 20, 2016
  • Type: Essay
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At first, Bill had reservations about Steven Johnson's book, "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation." However, he eventually recognized its worth in examining the environments that promote creative collaboration and innovation. Although initially doubtful due to numerous existing works on innovation, such as definitions, rankings of innovative companies, and measurement techniques, Bill chose to give the book a fair opportunity.

In his book, Johnson offers valuable examples of cultivating environments that encourage good ideas, even if the subject may be considered trendy. This is especially beneficial for those in business and education. The book delves into the institutional frameworks that nurture innovation, such as promoting a wide range of individuals to ponder groundbreaking topics and facilitating collaboration among people with different expertise and influences. Furthermore, it underscores the significance of offering suita


ble resources without enforcing a predetermined result.

Some books about innovation focus on the belief that a few incredibly intelligent individuals have experienced Eureka moments, resulting in extraordinary breakthroughs that profoundly impacted society. However, Johnson challenges this perspective that I personally found appealing: "We have a tendency to idealize groundbreaking innovations, envisioning monumental ideas surpassing their context...But ideas are pieces from various sources. We incorporate inherited or stumbled upon ideas and assemble them into a new form.

Starting Microsoft was not a sudden decision but rather the culmination of gradual progress in the growing personal computing industry. Our access to mainframe computers during high school and our belief in the potential of computers played a significant role in this decision. Similarly, our endeavors in global health, development, and education draw inspiration from diverse field

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like global health, international development, agriculture, engineering, scientific research, and public policy.

Johnson discusses the factors in our cultural milieu that promote a climate of creativity, as well as the recurring patterns that frequently contribute to the realization of groundbreaking concepts. He asserts that urban settings and technological advancements serve as powerful catalysts for both exploration and invention, with the interconnections between individuals and their ideas acting as the fundamental breeding grounds for innovation. The author highlights several conditions or patterns that facilitate innovative thinking, one of which is the concept of the "adjacent possible," originally introduced by Stuart Kauffman, an American scientist.

The concept is that what can be accomplished today is determined by past events and activities. An illustration of this idea is when a French doctor named Stephane Tarnier saw incubators for chicken hatchlings at the Paris Zoo in the 1870s. He then hired the zoo’s poultry-raiser to construct incubator boxes for premature newborns at his hospital. While other hospitals were already using devices to keep babies warm, Tarnier was the first to conduct research that demonstrated how incubators greatly decreased infant mortality rates. As a result, incubators became widely utilized in Paris and beyond.

In the 19th century, Charles Babbage, a British inventor, created two ideas that are significant in the history of computing. The first concept was the Difference Engine, designed for calculating polynomial functions. The second concept was the Analytical Engine, which is considered to be the first programmable computer. Although neither machine was physically constructed during that era, the popularity of the Difference Engine led to the development of mechanical calculators. However, Johnson believed that

the Analytical Engine was too advanced for its time and incorporated numerous principles found in modern computers.

Babbage's design would have required many mechanical gears and switches, potentially leading to slow machine speed. It took researchers another century to independently rediscover Babbage's ideas and incorporate them using newer technology, such as vacuum tubes and ultimately integrated circuits. According to Johnson, YouTube exemplifies a more modern example of the adjacent possible. If it had been introduced ten years earlier, it would not have succeeded because most internet users at that time still used slow dial-up connections that couldn't handle video sharing.

However, the introduction of YouTube allowed more people to have high-speed Internet access. Johnson also highlights the importance of "liquid networks" that can facilitate dynamic connections between innovative ideas while maintaining structure to nurture and preserve them. He provides an example I am familiar with – Building 99 at the Microsoft campus, where Microsoft Research is situated. Building 99 was purposely designed to encourage collaboration and creativity by allowing rooms to be effortlessly rearranged for flexible workspaces and meeting areas.

The area has many walls adorned with whiteboards, which allow scientists to gather and sketch ideas whenever they are inspired. This open work space concept is significantly transformative compared to traditional office cubicles. One pattern that Johnson explores is called "the slow hunch," which can be seen in the example of Joseph Priestley, an 18th century scientist who took 20 years to discover that plants produce oxygen. Priestly had a faint insight as a child when he noticed that spiders trapped in glass jars died. Similarly, Charles Darwin developed the key elements

of his theory of natural selection over a year before fully understanding their significance and publishing them. This process of starting with an idea that evolves and becomes clearer over time is often observed at Microsoft and the foundation. Johnson also attributes other breakthroughs to serendipity, which he refers to as "happy accidents."

In his daily routine, he incorporates a variety of activities such as dreaming, contemplative walks, lengthy showers, and dedicated reading time for a diverse range of books and papers. These activities can lead to unexpected intersections of ideas which he refers to as "serendipitous collisions." Additionally, he mentions the tradition of taking breaks known as Think Weeks, during which he delves into books and papers that are sent to him. Over the years at Microsoft, this practice has expanded to include the top 50 engineering thinkers. Consequently, there has been an exciting exchange of ideas and inspirations that would not have occurred otherwise.

The text cannot cover all the additional patterns that Johnson discusses, but they can be found in his book. Additionally, a video of Johnson discussing these patterns during a 2010 TED speech is available. The challenge lies in implementing more great ideas to address the world's major problems. Writers like Johnson remind us that good ideas often come from individuals or groups building upon others' ideas and benefiting from a nurturing environment.

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