Have you ever wondered why some people get a good idea and others don't? Do you think it is because the person has a eureka moment or do you think it takes time for good ideas to develop? Did you know that many good ideas take around ten years to come about? Have you wondered what it takes to make a good idea?
If you answer yes to any of these questions then you should have a read of Steve Johnson's latest book: Where Good Ideas Come From.
In the past, Johnson has written about how people, animals and DNA self-organise, how the brain processes information, why popular culture might be making us smarter and how scientists use techniques such as observation to work out how cholera spreads.
In many ways, his latest book is a culmination of all of his past work. It stars Charles Darwin and Tim Berners-Lee but has appearances by some of Johnson's favourites: Jane Jacobs and Joseph Priestley.
In all his books, Johnson mixes science with the arts. In Where Good Ideas Come From he makes the case for failure, messy environments and big cities. Of course, there needs to be some order but a desire for a controlled environment where everything is centrally planned is incapable of allowing innovation to thrive. Furthermore, according to Johnson, while open markets are crucial for good ideas, the more open and shared ideas are the better. He points out that this is true of Apple despite the seemingly closed culture of the company. The key to Apple's success, aside from the driven personality of Steve Jobs, is that all the different functions, marketing, development, design and so on work together in an open environment to create the products. He gives examples of companies who are sharing their intellectual property with outsiders and finding new ways to benefit. This may seem counter-intuitive but Johnson shows why, and how, it works.
Perhaps the hardest thing for human beings is to accept that you need to fail to succeed. Some have managed to embrace this. As Johnson says, the tech start-up culture mantra is 'fail fast'. It isn't just about learning from mistakes. Johnson argues that good ideas have come from attempts at trying to achieve one thing, failing and then realising the principle can be applied to something else. But to realise you could solve the something else relies on many other factors: openness, messy environments and interest in several things.
Johnson's book has implications for how we organise ourselves and our approach to living. It is definitely worth reading.