Review: Steven Johnson's Good Ideas

Good ideas. A natural history of innovation.


Explains the mechanisms of innovation based on those of nature. A book that is the result of the integration of a lot of information; pleasant to read and thought-provoking.

Steven Johnson captured me with his Emerging systems in 2001, a book in which he compiled works from the second half of the twentieth century and connected them in a masterful way. A few months ago, Luis Casas gave me The Good Ideas, a book in which the same author collects many more works from the last five centuries, and links them really well. The author confesses that he uses recommendation software to link the data he accumulates.

I believe that the ability to generate unexpected connections and to extrapolate patterns are the assets that have led to Steven B. Johnson to have the recognition it has today.

Complexity helps me to better understand the change in which we live. I am talking about complex systems, with movements that come from the bottom up and follow one another at great speed. In my case, I have tried to explain some things that have happened in the last three years from the perspective of complex systems in this blog.

Good ideas is about explaining where good ideas come from and seeing the recurring patterns; so, as it could not be otherwise, as it is a connector who writes it, begins by demonstrating through history that it is often better to connect ideas than to protect them.

The space in which we are allowed to innovate is called: as much as possible adjacent and it is the means we can explore to find new things. In this way, a series of limits to ideas appear: technical, cultural or even economic, to name a few; which is nothing more than the result of putting people in context.

When we move on to innovation environments, we see the liquid networksIn other words, innovative systems in which ideas flow easily between people with very different areas of expertise. Some of the most important innovations have taken shape from the exchange of ideas in cafés or interdepartmental university buildings.

Looking at history, we realize that the myth of the eurekaThe brilliant spark, the exception that proves the rule, occurs on rare occasions. On the other hand, in many cases slow-burning hunchThe great ideas usually need a maturation time of several years, in many cases. Years in which the ideas are set aside in a corner of the brain waiting to be useful. They usually become useful and profitable for their author after colliding with other hunches.

In nature, living beings use more energy to innovate the worse things get. The simplest thing for them would be to strive to survive and wait for the worst. for it to rainInstead, they turn to generating innovations that they would not seek in good times. Curiously, in difficult times, living organisms look outside for ideas, i.e. they innovate openly instead of protecting, in order to adapt to the new rules of the game. It is not a question of changing the situation, much less of waiting for the situation to return to normal. status quo. Sometimes I think that microorganisms are more judicious than we are. Closed environments inhibit the serendipity - fortunate and unexpected finding - and they diminish the network of brains that could deal with a problem.

Error is a necessary path towards innovation, it is not possible to do new things without making mistakes because we always tread on unknown ground when we explore the adjacent possible.

The exaptation consists of using something for which it was not originally made; it is a term inherited from biology. An example is the feathers that dinosaurs used to keep warm and ended up being used to fly.

Platforms are fertile grounds in which living beings collaborate and turn the system itself into something much more efficient than if they worked separately; the example illustrated here are the coral platforms. Nowadays, the Internet is also a new form of platforms in which information flows, is recycled and reused for purposes other than those initially intended. Platform building is, by definition, a kind of exercise in emergent behavior.

When a platform is open, information flows freely through it; it is based on the prior assumption that good ideas can come from anywhere. The example here is Twitter, where openness came before the platform itself was built. In other words, its open programming interface (API) was published before itself, and it is perhaps this fact that best explains the success of the little blue bird. The ability of open platforms to reuse things is condensed in the phrase of Jane Jacobs - pioneer architect of emergence/complexity - from 1961:

Old ideas may occupy new buildings. But new ideas must occupy old buildings

Ideas, therefore, are attracted to the collaborative and non-market; what Steven Johnson calls The fourth quadrantand is condensed in a sentence of Thomas Jefferson:

Inventions, by their nature, cannot be subject to ownership.

The book concludes with: if the Darwinian theory of species selection was supported by Marx, who was interested in it to justify Marxism; although he was wrong, because it was the ideological battering ram of the capitalist theories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today, probably, the metaphor that best explains the new paradigm is that of the coral platform.



5 responses to "Review: Steven Johnson's Good Ideas”

  1. Good review. Good book. I found this post because I needed a basic summary for an exam, and your work has been very good. Thank you.

  2. ideal Avatar reader
    ideal reader

    I really liked the review but I can't understand how a good reader like you can commit so many spelling and expression mistakes. Otherwise, great. Best regards.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I am a little flushed and about to correct the text.

  3. Juan José Jiménez Avatar
    Juan José Jiménez

    Good morning, I am studying a Master's Degree in Design and Innovation and I found Johnson's idea about innovations very well extracted. The critique and the attached comments are quite accurate.

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