Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

I've been whittling away for a while at Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation and finished it today. I really liked it.

That isn't to say I agreed with everything in it. Like many books with broad theories like this one, I feel he tries too hard to extend it too far. Regardless, it's provocative and made me think a great deal.

The short version is that Johnson examines the different environments in which innovation takes place (think open/liquid networks like educational institutions vs closed networks like corporate labs - or networked collaborative efforts vs 'lone genius inventors', etc) and shows the strengths and weaknesses to each and where they each have a role under different environmental conditions.

He goes to great lengths to make a case that ideas thrive and multiply in the same way that organisms do, taking great pains to make comparisons to darwinian models and the like. At times he stretches it too far, in my opinion, but I'll forgive him as it's provocative.

The book will make you think, as it did for me, about your "idea networks" and how you might improve them, and about what the right approach for your company or organization might be given the current environment. In my opinion, a book that makes you think and gives you a few novel ideas is always worth it, even if there are elements you disagree with.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

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