Dr. Von weighed in on Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From with an extensive book review last December( I posted on Johnson here. On a related note, read Charles Cameron’s comment about the limitations of linear thinking here):
….But what exactly are innovation and creativity? The dictionary definition of innovation is ‘the introduction of new things or methods,’ while creativity is ‘the ability to create meaningful new ideas, forms or methods’ that are original and imaginative. So the key notion is the development of new ideas in whatever field one is working. A question naturally develops, which is where do new ideas come from? How do we begin preparing children now to be creative and innovative in the future? In the past, many would have first thought about the arts as being the training ground for creativity. Now, we realize that the development of the abilities and mindsets and skills necessary to be creative in every field of study is necessary.Steven Johnson’s new book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, provides the argument that there are seven common themes that have led to the vast majority of great ideas throughout history. He gives numerous examples of such ideas, ranging from Darwin’s development of the theory of evolution to the of the GPS system, from Google to the creation of the first mechanical computing devices centuries ago, and so on. It is an interesting read.Here is a summary of the seven themes that lead to good ideas. Keep in mind there is certainly some degree of overlap and relationships between the themes, but overall they can be thought of as distinct concepts.1. The Adjacent Possible: Even if you have an interest in some topic or problem, if there is not a good environment conducive to presenting the necessary pieces to solve the problem, good ideas will almost certainly not develop. You may be brilliant with some of the information (i.e. pieces of a puzzle) in your mind that is necessary to solve a problem, but if your surroundings are not able to provide the remaining pieces of information or experiences, you will endlessly search for them to no avail. If you are isolated from others who know something about your problem or issue, or if there is no means of gathering further information (which is becoming less of a problem with the advent of the Internet), or if your environment does not provide the physical infrastructure or supplies to finish building a new physical device, you will be unable to develop the Idea or solution to your problem.
2. Liquid Networks: Great ideas can develop when information is allowed to flow through a larger network. One possible network is a social network, or often and more specifically, a professional network. The focus of this is the ability to collaborate to solve problems. It turns out that there are almost no great ideas throughout history that have been developed in isolation or by an individual who did not need any help in the development of that great idea. One may think Newton or Einstein did their work in isolation, but this is not entirely true. Those two individuals come about as close as you can get to not needing a network to develop the laws of motion or relativity, but they relied on some level of feedback, reading others’ work, and ultimately talking and discussing issues with close colleagues and friends.
An interesting study was done that looked at how research groups reach the coveted ‘Eureka!’ moment, where a new discovery is made. It turns out that these rare moments of discovery or problem solving almost never happen in the lab! Instead, the ‘Aha!’ are yelled out at the conference table, where members of the group are throwing ideas around and sharing results of their latest work over the past week. The person who figures it out needs to have input they have not thought about from the larger group or network, before the grand idea is formed….
Read the rest here.