Where Good Ideas Come From

I've been reading my friend Steven Johnson's new book Where Good Ideas Come From. Steven gave me an advance copy of the book. It is available for pre-order at Amazon [kindle here] and it will be released on October 5th.

I hope Steven is not a stranger to any of you. His books over the past decade are some of my favorites and his take on the intersection between technology, science, society, culture, and innovation is unique and important.

Good Ideas (as I call it) is an examination of the sources of creativity in all of us. It is a deeply scientific book but it reads more like a narrative, which is one of Steven's gifts. He tells wonderful stories about science.

I've been pulling quotes from the book for several weeks onto my tumblog (aka my commonplace book). If you follow me on Tumblr, you will have seen a number of them. I will keep doing that until I finish the book which may happen this week.

Steven showed me this four minute video last week on his iPad. It is an excellent (and whimsical) summary of the book and has all of the core concepts in it.

Steven gave a talk about Good Ideas at TED Oxford in July. TED just posted it to the web today. Here it is. It is worth watching if you have the time (17 mins long). If you watch it all the way to the end you'll hear a great story about the invention of GPS.

Good Ideas is as close to a must read for this audience as there is. It has informed and amplified my thinking about innovation and creativity and I am sure it will do the same for you.

#Books#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Comments (Archived):

  1. Philip J. Cortes

    I couldn’t agree more with Steven’s thesis on hunches. At our company we embrace conflict and disagreement as they always (without fail, to date), lead to a better “hunch”. In areas from UI, to strategy, conflict helps us bring our product to a level it otherwise wouldn’t have achieved.What I would argue, however, is that sometimes that “hunch” comes in “Eureka” fashion – and those are usually some of the best hunches to refine.

    1. fredwilson

      he outlines a number of those eureka hunches. in fact the book starts withone

      1. Labarremd

        Hey Fred and Phillip Cortes: Don’t you think that Steven’s thesis on hunches should be indexed to history? Gregor Mendel was a monk in Austria two centuries ago; it isn’t likely that his hunch about genetics from peapods was made in concert with anyone; this might contrast greatly with the environment in which Mr. Cortes works and with the fabulously collaborative platform that a blog like this might serve to more jointly nurture a ‘eureka thought’Bob Labarre

  2. Pete

    “That’s the real lesson of where good ideas come from, that chance favors the connected mind.”To anyone who frequents AVC, this conclusion is almost self-evident.

      1. JLM

        Yes, indeed, and the remarkable thing about it is the civility with which the devotees converse across a great spectrum of ages, experience and geography. This is easily the most impressive and well behaved group of diverse folks with whom I have had the opportunity to visit.If the US Congress were able to achieve such a level of comity, most of our problems would be solved. Alas.

    1. fredwilson

      yeah, there is a lot in the book for us AVC’ers to nod knowingly about

    2. Matt A. Myers

      I’m quite sure my ADD tendencies have allowed me to observe a lot more than most (who are less “ADD”). Pros and cons to that though; Many ideas to have to filter through, to organize, to get excited about, to let go of, to distract me (the drawback).I wonder how many successful entrepreneurs (or “serial entrepreneurs”) have ADD tendencies, but are so successful because they’ve learned to manage and organize it all. The more organized and the better I become the more productive I’m becoming. It’s been a long exponential road so far, but I foresee the fruits of my labor.

      1. JLM

        How did the world function before they discovered ADD?

      2. Tereza

        I really think that ADD as a term is overused.It is quite possible that today I’d be termed ADD. But you know, I really just am curious and hate sitting still when something is boring.Is that my fault? Who knows. Is it a pathology? Hardly.I loved reading the NYT article this weekend about gaming in the classroom. You can put ANYTHING into the context of a fun challenge.Hell, I was scared to death of commenting on this board until one day I invented my own game of leaving one comment — any comment — on here every day. Even if it was “Great post, Fred.” Anything can be a game.I think teachers, and everyone, have to take responsibility to crisply define why something — anything — matters and is worth a challenge. And that’s a skill that’s is in short supply.

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          You afraid of commenting?!?! no way! glad you overcame it! ๐Ÿ™‚

          1. Tereza

            yeah the Kraken was unleashed.

  3. reece

    Looking forward to reading this one.On the flip side, my friend/technical cofounder Dan would argue that all good ideas come to him while he’s in the bathroom… showering, etc.http://danspinosa.com/post/…It seems he preferes the isolation…

    1. fredwilson

      i get them in the shower too. all the time.but steven talks about why that isit has to do with how the brain works when you are sleeping/dreaming

      1. reece

        very cool. can’t wait to read it.related: if i shower more often, will i have more good ideas?? ๐Ÿ˜‰

        1. fredwilson

          maybe, but you will certainly be better company ๐Ÿ™‚

          1. reece

            fair enough!

      2. Pete

        There’s an interesting brain science lecture by David Rock that talks about this, among other things. He says insights come from weak associations which aren’t made in the rational brain (prefrontal cortex). So: “don’t focus on the problem, focus on being unfocused.”http://www.youtube.com/watc…

        1. Hemang Gadhia

          The whole “don’t focus on the problem, focus on being unfocused” goes nicely with what andyswan talks about below w/ bourbon among other methods of mind alteration. =)I’ve always been perplexed why the most creative amongst us (think the great artists that you’re blown away by — you look at their work and just think to yourself, my god, how on earth did he tap into his mind in such a way, and why can’t I even remotely tap into that same place) seem to share an affinity for some of these methods to “focus on being unfocused” and how can we attain that same plane without chemical mind alteration?

          1. andyswan

            There are a lot of ways to get “high” without chemicals. Sex, running, risk-taking, etc.But sometimes you just want to sit in a comfy chair in a safe place with your pants on and get there with a few sips of corn….

          2. Hemang Gadhia

            Totally fair Andy. What I was trying to get at is why have we been seemingly built where that part of our brain is accessible only with some type of chemical alteration (and even sex and running cause a chemical alteration in your brain) and how can we find access in a more simplistic fashion? But I guess if we knew the answer to that, we’d kill the whole mini-economy built around faux ways to get to that place (i.e. sales of Ginkgo).

          3. andyswan

            LOL. People will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid effort.

      3. JLM

        “…in the shower…” LOLI used to be modestly friendly w/ George Kozmetsky — founder of Teledyne, billionaire when a billion was really something and Dean of the UT Grad Biz School.A freakin’ Space Cadet genius of gargantuan proportions.He has been dead for some time now. I miss the guy.I had helped him build ICSquared in Austin — the Institute for Creative Capitalism which was way, way, way ahead of its time. I helped him on the physical plant upon which he spent 6 times as much money as he needed to spend. I never took a penny and was paid back in just absorbing some of his genius.The guy wrote a great book on “capitalism” in 1990 that is worth a good read.This guy had a white board in his shower. I kid you not. He had a whiteboard which did not fade w/ water.Now you might think this was a bit eccentric but this guy was not playing “touch”, he was playing tackle and he could afford anything and this is what the guy wanted — not a yacht, a freakin’ white board in his shower.He said his best ideas came — drumroll — “in the shower!”So, Fred, you, my friend, are in the prop wash of genius.

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          Is that book “Modern American Capitalism: Understanding Public Attitudes and Perceptions”. Just read the review at Amazon and it sounds interesting. And if you say that it’s a good read, then it has to be the second book today… I love this place!http://www.amazon.com/Moder

          1. JLM


          2. Fernando Gutierrez

            Thanks! it’s ordered now!

  4. Noah Fleming

    I love the idea on hunches needed to come together and incubate with other hunches.This sounds like a great book. Thanks for sharing.

    1. JLM

      The other important thing is to go out of one’s way to meet and develop relationships w/ interesting people and to find a bit of quiet space to actually think deeply. We don’t do enough deep thinking.

      1. Tereza

        I think it’s particularly fruitful to develop relationships with people who are quite different from you.Time and again this creates very interesting thinking.It’s not easy but it’s fruitful. You can pressure-test your ideas sooner.

        1. JLM

          Yes, it is very important to cultivate friendships outside your own comfort zone and “normal” circle of friends. It is also wonderfully rewarding — kind of like social daring, adventure.When I got out of the real estate biz, I had a multi-year non-compete and was casting about for something interesting to do. A woman friend of mine lured — and believe me the right word is “lured” — me into investing in and becoming a boardmember of a local musical theater troupe.A year later, by default, I was the president and the musical theater group had been transformed into a highly disciplined and successful enterprise. The only “equity” company outside of NYC, San Francisco, etc. As an example, we hired Larry Gatlin to play the lead in The Music Man.And, we actually made a fair amount of money. For a while. The story does not end so well.The guy who was the artistic director was truly a genius and much, much different than the talented folks I had met in the business world.I came into contact w/ a cross section of the gay theater world that I would never otherwise have met. It was a very entertaining and educational experience. I developed a healthy respect for the talent in the theater, particularly this one guy’s genius. I became a bit color blind.It made me re-evaluate many of my own personal preconceived notions and made me a better person.Plus, I met a lot of truly gorgeous dancers and went to some of the best parties — cast parties — you could ever imagine.A couple of years later, I was no longer president and the financial controls I had erected had come crashing down. I had guaranteed a bit of the enterprise’s debt — fateful Thanksgiving phone call — “we are out of money”. Had to track down my banker and borrow low six figures on Thanksgiving.It was cheap tuition.So yes, I am wild about meeting people who are not like me.

  5. Kenneth Kearns

    Kindle version of the book?

    1. fredwilson

      will there be one or do you want a link to it?

      1. awaldstein

        I’ll take the link as I’m an Ipad reader. Big leap to buy and carry around paper with me.

        1. fredwilson

          here is the link to the kindle versionhttp://www.amazon.com/Where…

          1. awaldstein


      2. Kenneth Kearns

        Thanks for the link. First time I have seen an Amazon book page without a link to their kindle edition.

    2. fredwilson

      here is the link to the kindle versionhttp://amzn.to/9GdilL

  6. Tom Labus

    Thanks, Fred. That was a great way to start the day.I do worry about what will happen to books and the great communion with authors that they offer.

    1. fredwilson

      i think the paper form may slowly fadebut i’ve read more books on my iPad in the past three months than i have read in paper form in a long time

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Careful, Fred – to quote from a classic English put-down, that some older generations used to utter to people – usually children – whom they perceived as reading too much:”You read too much – it’ll only put silly ideas into your head.”I remember it being said to me, several times, as a child. True.Unsure if this amusing (yet also depressing) mind-set also existed in the USA/elsewhere?

        1. fredwilson

          that is crazy

          1. Carl Rahn Griffith

            Indeed. I hope it has disappeared entirely now but it was prevalent during my generation/demographic, for sure…I suspect this is why I am so obsessed with books and their being on display – my only reservation with eBooks is the lack of a physical presence of the book, which I think is a great shame.Mind you, when we moved home – along with some 800 books – eBooks seemed a very good idea!;-)

      2. RichardF

        Time to start investing in signed first covers then.

  7. akharris

    I could have sworn that good ideas came from the stork, just like babies…

  8. Carl Rahn Griffith


  9. baba12

    Where good ideas come from? I have not read the book nor did I even watch the video.but I will read it when it comes out and is available at my Brooklyn Public library.Venture capitalists don’t always see an idea to be a breakthrough to nurture and explore the possibilities because it is not necessarily always in their best interest. Is it fair to say that innovation in your world is more about how to come up with new ways to make more money with less investments.I wonder if there is innovation happening in your sector, I don’t necessarily mean the concepts of seed stage investing or micro finance etc but any real innovation happening in the world of finance. Do you think USV has in its existence become more creative in ways it invests and if so has it been something that has transformed you and the industry as a whole. I am naive to the way things operate in your industry so I ask.

    1. fredwilson

      yes, very much so

  10. Kevin

    Is there a way on Disqus to search for blogs and / or comments or commentators discussing something of interest to you? If not, wouldn’t this make sense to connect people thinking about or talking about similar topics?

    1. fredwilson

      disqus does have search for your own comments but i don’t think they have rolled out service wide searchi agree that is a great idea

      1. Kevin

        I was thinking about this yesterday. It seems to me this would be an incredibly powerful connector. To be able to find people and groups online that are of actual interest to you still isn’t easy. I find myself on the same few sites pretty frequently, and sites like Digg, etc., just don’t do it for me in terms of finding content that interests me. Disqus could go a long way towards solving that as they grow.

        1. Matt A. Myers

          And more in real-time.

        2. Fernando Gutierrez

          One work-around you can take is checking the profiles of the people whose comments you are interested in and see in what other communities they are active. You won’t get something always, but I’ve found a few great blogs here that way.

        3. joeagliozzo

          If you subscribe to someone’s comments in Disqus you will see their comments no matter what bog or site they post on. Besides being a great way to follow someone’s thoughts, it’s also a great site/blog discovery tool.

  11. awaldstein

    I’m always on the search for smart stimulation…looking forward to reading.

  12. itamarl

    Will definitely order it, one thing that the most innovative companies have taught us is that good ideas have nothing to do with luck. You can build the right framework and train people to create innovation the same way you train your staff to be great managers. I’d add The Ten Faces of Innovation (by Tom Kelley) as a must read: http://amzn.com/0385512074

  13. johnmccarthy

    Steven tweeted yesterday”Pre-order Where Good Ideas Come From and you can join an exclusive webinar on practical tools for innovation. Details: http://bit.ly/d3OmNp

  14. kagilandam

    Good ideas comes when brain is resting and rejoicing. Many inventions have happened in sleeping … only issue is many dreams we forget and if we are lucky we will remember the good ideas. Brain processes all the information it gathered (so far … for whatever years it has gathered) while sleeping…. and brings out the best possible solution when you wake up. Many people tell they get ideas while taking bath … that is because that is when your brain fully awake from sleep and while in the shower brain is rejoicing that is why lot of people sing in the shower (added to it is the echo effect of the room). Does keep sleeping gives you good idea … i think that is a good idea … but you need information to to date to process which comes only when you are awake.One of the great physicist gets ideas sitting in strip-dance bar and after drinking. (i think it is Ray Freeman … correct me if i am wrong).

      1. kagilandam

        Yes it is Richrard Feynman thanx for correcting.I am sure i am no getting any new idea in the near future … my neurons are miss firing !!!

    1. vruz

      ah yes, you’re probably talking about Feynman.I see the link between coffee houses and hostess bars now :-)http://en.wikipedia.org/wik……In Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, he gives advice on the best way to pick up a girl in a hostess bar. At Caltech, he used a nude/topless bar as an office away from his usual office, making sketches or writing physics equations on paper placemats. When the county officials tried to close the place, all visitors except Feynman refused to testify in favor of the bar, fearing that their families or patrons would learn about their visits. Only Feynman accepted, and in court, he affirmed that the bar was a public need, stating that craftsmen, technicians, engineers, common workers “and a physics professor” frequented the establishment. While the bar lost the court case, it was allowed to remain open as a similar case was pending appeal…

    2. Tereza

      I’ve cracked the code on some hairy problems in my dreams! Literally!

      1. kagilandam

        Tereza, was that a good idea put to use or just a hair-raising idea ๐Ÿ™‚

    3. panterosa,

      Your brain files what it learns in the day, like a librarian shelving books, at night when you sleep. Children manage to learn so much since their sleep buffers their organization and retention. Adults underestimate sleep greatly. But I find the people with the worst memories are those thatt sleep little or badly.And yes dawn and dusk of sleeping are the great idea times – when the mind has drifted from conscious meandering.

  15. panterosa,

    I like Johnson’s animations immensely since they so perfectly integrate the ideas with visuals. I recently started animating my ideas after many years of just drawing them. It is a powerful medium for showing ideas which “can’t exist” in real life but can in the imagination, hence “Good Ideas”.One of the reasons I started animating was it had been an item in that Someday/Maybe file I was encouraged to start by reading Getting Things Done. Declaring your back burner ideas to be in close proximity to your front burner items helps it all be in play. I think this ties into Johnson’s point well, and it is an easily implementable format for one’s hunches. Worked very well for me.Recently, my new favorite is the TED talk by Matt Ridley on When Ideas Have Sex. I think it it a great piece to view alongside ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’.http://www.ted.com/talks/ma…I also note that Visuals, Visual Informatics, are key in showing ideas having sex – and also hunches meeting hunches.

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t think steven did the drawingsbut they are terrific

      1. panterosa,

        I don’t think it matters who did the drawings. It matters that they explain the idea. If he did do them then it just shows his conceptual/visualization are in sync with his drafting.

    2. stevenberlinjohnson

      Thanks! The funny thing about the Ridley talk: he delivered that talk immediately before mine at TEDGlobal this summer in Oxford. They are very compatible with each other — so compatible that I was worried mine might seem repetitive after Matt’s, but I think it worked out okay in the end….

      1. panterosa,

        Having just seen When Ideas Have Sex and Where Good Ideas Come From in the space of a few days I can say it worked for me. They compliment each other well. I have done a lot of thinking/drawing of mirroring recently, and I would liken it to the shift in perspective/angle of incidence to subject.Looking forward to the book.

  16. andyswan

    My theory on idea generation:Engage your body and ideas will flow. Running, ping-pong, bocce, sex, sailing…whatever gets your blood flowing and the “control of my body” side of your brain on autopilot. Go to sleep voluntarily exhausted.Engage with people and ideas will flow. The best ideas are often in reaction to an outside stimulus. It doesn’t really matter if the other party is smart or dumb…this isn’t about brainstorming, it’s about listening to the frustrations and needs of others and practicing solving them.Engage with bourbon and ideas will flow. I’ve heard rumors that the same is true for other drinkable and smokable party favors, but I can neither confirm nor deny that. Until the point of excess (which will destroy that which came before it), you’ve got a good chance of an artificially relaxed and open mind, engaged with people. I’m no doctor, but it works.All of that said, I don’t think ideas are generally worth that much: http://andyswan.com/blog/20…Now that I’ve written out my theory, I’ll read this book….and look purely for confirmations of my own biases. That’s what business books are for, right? ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. fredwilson

      confirmed and amplified a bunch of mineyou’ve got most of them already

    2. David Semeria

      There’s one item in your list that demands *total* concentration – unless you to want end up being frying-panned by your partner.Been there.

      1. Tereza

        What were you doing? Checking your Blackberry?

        1. David Semeria

          LOL – I’d be dead.

  17. Matt A. Myers

    How do I sign up for the Fred Book Club newsletter?

  18. LIAD

    pre-order!5th October!I want it now godammit!

    1. Dale Allyn

      Me too, but since I have to be in airplanes and airports for over 24 hours straight shortly after that date, I guess the timing will be fine. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    2. JLM

      Hmm, you seem to have shoplifted my underlying philosophy of business. Have you been reading my mind? LOL

      1. LIAD

        Which philosophy is that? Preying on people who are acutely impatient? I like it!

  19. William Mougayar

    I agree that too much of the “Always connected, multi-tasking lifestyle” is not always a cumulatively positive factor for innovation. I find my best ideas come when I’m totally disconnected from the online world, from sitting at conferences or being in new environments.I wonder- does he cover vibrant online communities like this one here as a fuel factor for innovation?

    1. fredwilson

      not yeti am about half way through

  20. Hemang Gadhia

    Two quick points…1. Speaking of good ideas, I wonder who thought up “Whiteboard Art”? Because it’s fascinating how people are using that construct to creatively articulate concepts that are a bit more complex. Steven Johnson should ask Andy Azula/Martin Agency how they came up with that idea for the UPS ads. =)2. If Steven is right in his premise (and I have little doubt that he’s spot on), what is the implication on the VC model? I’ve always been a huge admirer of how VC money spurs innovation, but isn’t one of the core premises in the business that you sorta need to go from inception to exit in a very short period of time? A period of time that would presumably be difficult to move the needle for real innovation?

  21. RichardF

    Great, short presentation and a fantastic sales pitch for his book.”the chance (of a good idea) favours the connected mind” ……loving that quote

  22. inathanael

    I work in an office with a door. My basic task is implementing stuff in online systems for the other people in my office; I also manage a small team of contractors that produce other stuff for me to implement.How do people like me, in relatively isolating roles, put ourselves in connected-mind situations?

    1. fredwilson

      there’s a great story in Good Ideas about buildings without walls and/or moveable wallsi think you need to knock down a wall

      1. Tereza

        I like Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big House”. She defines communal versus “away” spaces. The Away spaces are rather small, but acoustically separate. It’s when you need quiet, focus, etc. But the default, and warm light areas are the Communal space.If you are on the phone a lot and would be bothered by outside noise and they by you, what could be lovely is a wall of glass with a floor-to-ceiling slider that you can open or close as needed.As someone who talks a lot I can say there is some benefit to having some quiet nooks for phone convos, even if they’re the size of phone booths.We had some pretty innovative office designs in the past and these ‘phone booths’ plus open tables, lounge chairs, etc. worked well. Depends a bit on the person’s function

  23. Steven Kane

    Love that animation/video and looking forward to another solid piece from Mr JohnsonHowever, with respect, I think these ideas were presented totally brilliantly and entertainingly by the great James Burke, in his 10-part, TV series, mad-history-of-innovation “Connections: An Alternative View of Change”http://j.mp/cDzMwtDon’t worry about the creation date – this series hasn’t dated at all (though Burke’s leisure suit is a classic!).I think anyone who reads this blog will fall madly in love with Burke and his fresh funny novel views (always supported by facts!) as to how good ideas happen, and how networking, luck, serendipity and base human desires are key to thinking about how science and history happens

  24. Harry DeMott

    Will definitely read.Love the animation and drawings.What I really love is the way he pitches his book. Most book recommendations come from friends – or through some best seller lists – or simply reading another book written by an author I already like. Here I got the pitch, it was succinct, amusing, and on point. Much better than reading another Amazon review.BTW Fred, which do you like better: iPad or Kindle? If iPad, do you read on the Kindle app or the iBook app? anyone else want to weigh in on this one? I have a 2 foot stack of magazines at home – and 4 different newspapers per day. that and more books than I know what to do with – along with about 40 liner feet of classical sheet music. Would be great to be able to consolidate all that information into something more digestible.

  25. tmarman


  26. Mark Essel

    I love it when you throw books, and media at us. Keep it coming super human filter.Bookmarked the vids for later in the week when I have 21 minutes, and I’ll keep an eye out for the book.

    1. RichardF

      Mark – Whilst the longer one is good – the 4 minute one is worth it now rather than later

  27. markjosephson

    I’ve been lucky enough to get an early copy and have focused on an early concept in the book about the “adjacent possible” — that new ideas are rarely huge leaps but the lucky intersection of intelligence and adjacency to the materials or spark to get to that next good idea. Reminds me as an entrepreneur to keep plugging away day by day because each day (or release or partnership) gets us one step closer to the next good idea. It can be just around the corner or to use the metaphor in the book right behind the next door.

  28. baba12

    Just like you have MBA Monday’s wonder if you would have GreatIdea Fridays to talk/share and percolate thoughts around innovation

  29. kenberger

    Mr. Johnson is also founder of USV portco outside.in, a cool geoloco company.And he had an unfathomably huge Twitter follower count early on, was one of the top 5 or 10– the outside.inners I met couldn’t give me the secret as to how he did that!

  30. Ezra Marbach

    Reminds me of a classic New York Times article: “Where to Get a Good Idea:Steal It Outside Your Group” http://nyti.ms/cqb5qH

    1. karen_e

      I’m reading the New Yorker profile on Dyson right now – it’s gripping and makes a great case for engineering as a joyous profession. I think the group here would love it! Only the abstract is up online unless you’re a subscriber. Print edition is easy enough to find.

  31. Andrew Greene

    Ideas often come to be right before I fall asleep. Be sure to have a notepad or phone next to you to record your idea.Easiest way to generate ideas is to take an unusual approach to a common problem. Give yourself arbitrary limitations and then try to solve a problem. Take ideas from one domain. Apply to another.

    1. Tereza

      I get many in the car and in fact haven’t turned on the radio or music in a few months because the quiet allows me to synthesize, reflect, mash-up and organize.There aren’t too many moments when I’m not otherwise distracted so it is valuable time.

  32. Nikhil Nirmel

    An idea starts with an observation of an inefficiency. What takes years is reframing your solution to this observation as the fulfillment of a desire experienced by an individual.

  33. vruz

    not a secret: great concentration of “units of diversity”.be it in memetics, biology, sociology… exponential growth of new combinations occurs spontaneously.the industrial corporation encourages the opposite, it gives short-term advantage to industrial era thinking, but it loses in every long term scenario.information era corporations need to accelerate the growth of their combinatory power.in other words, think different. but really really really different.

  34. johnmccarthy

    Looking forward to reading Steven’s book and to tying it into Lewis Hyde’s Common as Air which is an interesting look at the communal nature of ideas and the need for innovation to be built on top of ideas that have come before. Implications for patents, copyrights and open source abound.Quirky.com is building a product development community around the simple idea that an idea grows best when it is worked on by others. Take a look at how Quirky is building a process around crowd sourced product development. There is some good stuff, both physical products and intellectual capital around the shaping of ideas being created there.

  35. ShanaC

    I agree with him on hunches. He describes a problem I have been having for a while- qhen you are interested in a number of topics, where do you go find similar versions of you to talk about said topic.Other question of the moment-where does the original hunch come from. He talks about Darwin and the Origin of Species, but how did he know to start looking even? That’s an even better question. Where does the pre-hunch come from? What causes those to happen?I’ll put it on my book list- I’m swamped. I keep thinking I need a kindle or something, I’ll get through books faster (though I won’t be able to take them in the bath with me, alas)

    1. Tereza

      I think most great ideas required some sort of defined task or hypothesis, that set off the inquiry of the brain jag or the rant or the conversations that ultimately made a quantum leap to something amazing. Even if it had nothing to do with the original hypothesis or task.I think people sitting in a blank room with no objective, no limitations or restrictions…is a great way to get nowhere fast.

      1. panterosa,

        Not true. Art school proves this wrong.

        1. Tereza

          That may be true but isn’t art school a self-select group of highly creative people?When I’ve facilitated mixed groups of adults, open-ended activities go down like a lead balloon.Unfortunately too many people have had the whimsy beaten out if them.Naturally rule #1 of revving young children is make their activities open-ended so they can learn how to be creative and limitless….

          1. panterosa,

            Art School had almost 50% drop out rate when I went, which means people are in a pretty fluid state. They are also high proportion lefties(right brainers), and dyslexics, who learned to communicate visually early on, and they are risk takers. I came from high tech academia and had to struggle to keep up in the non-verbal world of RISD. Huge learning curve and transition, but also encouragement to take risks. Societal groups mainly don’t reward risk takers, they want to think they do, but they don’t support the risky.People have whimsy beaten out because they allow it, and they feel safer that way. The non whimsy crowd also have rigid views which are often contradictory.I design for kids, write books for kids, and teach kids art because I want to help them not become boring, to be strong enough through being smart enough to pop the non whimsy bubble down When I teach, I bring them to a new place, where they are in charge. They love it and watching that is amazing.

  36. Naga Kunderu

    So, this is first step – getting good ideas. This is important, but as we know, ideas are dime a dozen, its the implementation that matters. This is where I believe the difference between great and good comes into picture. Do you guys have suggestions on implementation part? I am thinking about Steve Blank’s Four steps to Epiphany…!

    1. Tereza

      have the idea, start talking to some customers to create a design, then build prototype, then…..

      1. Naga Kunderu

        Hmm….seems that I never thought of ‘talking to some customers’ to create a design. May be it will be useful. Thanks Tereza.

  37. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Serendipity re: timing of this topic – coincides with a rare diary update from one of my all-time favourite musicians, Bill Nelson (sometimes better known via his 80s band, Be Bop Deluxe) in which he touches upon where inspiration comes from.He’s incredibly creative and prolific, still.Always a good read, regardless:http://www.billnelson.com/h

  38. Fernando Gutierrez

    When someones who says that he only reads bios and fiction recommends something that doesn’t fall into those categories so vehemently, I just can pre-order the book (not that I need much to order books…). BTW, I enjoyed Grumby a lot. Light reading, but quite fun.

  39. jonathanjaeger

    I’m currently reading “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip and Dan Heath. Interesting read thus far, so I would recommend it as a complement to Johnson’s book which I hope to get a chance to read at some point.

  40. JLM

    Fred, another in a long string of hits.There is no question that “thinking” is a rational, controllable and predictable exercise just like jogging or swimming. Engage in it and you will be come better at it, have an increased capacity to do it longer and will have physical results.While I don’t think I am the dumbest guy in the room, I have become an accomplished pickpocket and shoplifter of ideas from a great number of sources. Not the greatest ideas in the world, but the application of a “good” idea a little out of its context in another context in which it has never been used before.I once stumbled onto a 1930s vintage office building which had horrible waterproofing issues. The building leaked from the outside in. Previous owners tried to caulk it but the problems were much more pervasive than a bead of silicon.I was reading through an engineering mag (hey, I’m an engineer) and noticed a bridge structure waterproofing cementitious compound which was touting that it could now be applied with a roller rather than a trowel.I bought that building for a song, applied Thoroseal in its very first application as a building waterproofing agent and made a very nice lick when I got the building dry and made the musty smell go away.I think the Internet has allowed the flow of ideas to move great distances and that if one has their eyes open there is a huge amount of immediately available information and ideas which can be applied — particularly in the small cap space.You need a bit less intellectual space to think about “stealing” ideas than you do to actually coming up with original ideas. A lot of money gets made by the guy who can deploy a “good” idea in a working engine which is otherwise sound — a rundamentally well run business.

    1. Tereza

      I’m with you, JLM. There’s a bit of big-swinging-you-know-what sometimes in the innovation/futurism field. “My idea is bigger than your idea” in an epic battle of esoteric thought.I recognize that many of my ideas are probably singles rather than triples or home runs. I don’t really care.There are so many crazy exogenous factors in business which could get your knickers tied up, that the clever turnarounds, the singles, the “derivative ideas”…..if they’re gonna make a lot of money, what’s wrong with that?!

  41. Bertell Nelson

    I haven’t watched the 17 minutes yet – 4 minutes is almost too much to handle when I’m “multitasking,” but I love the 4 minute video; thanks for sharing. Reminds me of a clip I saw years ago (on 60 Minutes or something) that had a class of 6-year-olds toss around ideas, stream of consciousness, on random topics. As a group, they came up with more innovative solutions than most adults could envision alone. Always stuck with me.

  42. Tereza

    You know, interestingly, I really have to say that parenting — especially as my children have entered school age — has developed me and exposed me in so many ways that are fertile ground for tons of new ideas I could never have seen before.Before kids, all the people I mixed with were by and large quite similar to me. They were people I worked with and with similar education. In retrospect I think I was navel-gazing a bit.I’ve been in innovation my whole career and literally specialized in coming up with ideas by crossing boundaries. I’ve never been “the best” at a specific discipline but was called out in various places as “the best” at crossing them and driving them, as a group, get to the next level and make something totally new. As an aside, to people who don’t understand it, it’s terribly hard to explain. In fact painful. They yearn to fit you in a box and you just don’t fit and they just don’t “get” what you do (and to say, “Hi! I’m an innovator!” is totally dorky and sounds disingenuous). Then again, maybe this is why entrepreneurship is so totally enjoyable for me. I’m like a kid in a candy shop. Seriously, never had so much fun in my life.The community where I live is pretty monolithic socioeconomically. But when your kids become friends with people and you become friends with their parents, even if you didn’t seem to have so much in common. You hang out and learn the ins and outs of all different fields and their current challenges. Uniformly, they’re damn good at what they do. So the soccer field or parent meetings become, for me, quite the London or Vienna Cafe.I just came home from Back To School Night. Yesterday was the Ice Cream Social. I have had great conversations with dozens of people whom I know and care about. I’ve passed forward two significant job leads, found out the latest doings at IBM, Viacom, Interbrand, a few startups, a hedge fund or two, and picked up a few leads for my own thing. I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting. The conversations flip between the kids, the school, our stuff, all over the place. And invariably, very interesting stuff emerges.When I think about when and how my ideas happen, they definitely do not happen at a desk. I am out talking to people constantly and constantly iterating ideas with whichever poor soul happens to cross my path at that moment.And while some people have said, “If you’re out doing this parenting stuff, how can you possibly be working as much as someone who’s in the office all day and into the night? It’s just not physically possible.” And I reflect on it and think, my life and my base of contacts has never, ever been richer, broader and deeper in my entire life. I know more than I ever had. I draw conclusions faster. They’re presentable sooner. If I had 24-hours a day to contribute solely to my “work life”, it would likely be best spent spending not all my time at a desk. There’s not a moment when I’m not thinking. Innovation is a 24/7 job and if your brain is on, it’s happening wherever you are.The best entrepreneurs I know carry their “coffee shop” with them everywhere they go.

    1. panterosa,

      Tereza,I agree with the expansion children bring to social networks, and how the differences are refreshing. I also find being out and about serves to refresh and open after desk time.I am interested that your group so readily discusses work. My daughter is at private school in the city and ‘work discussion’ is rather frowned on. Yes there is networking, but there is some fine line by which self promotion may not enter in a visible way. Using contact info for mailings of non school things almost merits a mutiny. It is a girls school, many of the mothers work, and so it’s not a sexist/mom issue.

      1. Tereza

        Using a school mailing list is an absolute no-no. It definitely can’t be a soapbox for work.What I described is a public elementary school in an extremely small town. Most of us have known each other for 5 years or more. It’s a lot more than just a school community. It’s a very casual ongoing “how’s this going? how’s that going?” conversation that dips in and dips out over weeks or months across various venues — school, park, supermarket, church/synagogue, town recreation commission, volunteer work, etc.. So for example if someone is out of work, it’s quietly but generally known and people try to help. It’s really the same bunch of people at all the same places a over time across multiple children, and people become quite good friends. It’s taken a few years for this to happen. Maybe this is more unique than I thought.Anyway, at Back To School Night it’s not so appreciated to be talking about one’s own child much… seems competitive in its own way. ๐Ÿ™‚ So other topics come up.

  43. Yule Heibel

    I love Steven B. Johnson’s ideas, and my comment has nothing to do with his work – but: I was saddened that the only obviously female character in the otherwise excellent and witty animation about Steven’s discussion of creativity was the HEN (chicken). Apparently, the animator interpreted creativity – rather uncreatively imo – as an exclusively male domain. What a shame.

  44. Donna Brewington White

    Thanks for this suggestion, Fred. Am very EAGER to read this book!Bummer that I am so crazy busy at this moment that I can’t pore through all the comments. I can only imagine what gems this inspired from a group that could very well be described by the title of this book!(Didn’t even really have the time to read this post but was starting to have AVC withdrawal symptoms.)Will come back for the comments. I feel like a kid who has favorite candy stored away knowing it will be there waiting for me to savor.

  45. Eric Leebow

    Good ideas come from dreams, and figuring out problems! We all have dreams, and problems, yet some people are just creative and see relationships that others have challenges seeing, or see things that other people don’t see. The super creative may have new ideas every day, and can visualize the future, yet aren’t able to execute on everything. I am one of those people, who always would ask questions, why can’t we do something, how can we do something, wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this… These are the questions entrepreneurs ask themselves. Good ideas come from thinking the impossible is possible, and dreaming about the impossible and solving problems that don’t even exist for everyone, yet you could see how it might be a problem or a future concept that would change something, or even change the world or how it’s viewed. People who have too many good ideas, sometimes must gift or give them away, or they are stuck pondering this idea, wanting, or craving the idea… I have previously given many basic ideas to other companies, and helped them out. Some of the best entrepreneurs have given an idea or two away that have made other entrepreneurs succeed with them!

  46. MikeSchinkel

    Seems that he is arguing for the benefits of coworking without even mentioning coworking (at least not mentioned in his video.)

    1. San Kim

      Agree completely. “Colliding ideas” is what I enjoyed most about being in the DreamIt Ventures incubator program, and why I love the coworking scene in NYC. There’s nothing like being surrounded by creative people, especially in related industries. It’s a huge competitive advantage for startups against corporations with closed environments.

  47. Terry J. Leach

    I am so happy to see these videos. I’ve been doing the “The Slow Hunch” method, even if I didn’t know it, for almost 10 about a business idea. The technology didn’t exists when I started focusing on the problem and I had not fully bake the business model either, but over the last few years my connectedness to blogs such as AVC and social networks like LinkedIn I think I’m ready to launch a service with an innovative open business model.I would tell anybody with an idea to not let doubt by others dissuade you.

  48. Ilya

    As much as I hate to do this I can’t help but shamelessly plug my recent post titled “The next big thing can be just as simple as the last one” (http://codercofounder.wordp…. It was exactly a week ago that I posted that.So anyways, the point I tried to make in that post and what I will summarize briefly here is that mainline arch of progress, which is characterized by ever-increasing complexity of new inventions and ideas, also, as a side effect, creates new spaces for simple and profound ideas to emerge at the hands of regular folks, not geniuses or Nobel prize winners. Furthermore, as progress seems to accelerate these secondary spaces are popping up more often, which also means that there are plenty low hanging fruits to go around. By low-hanging fruits I mean the ideas which cause you to slap your forehead and go: “why didn’t I think of that?”

  49. Ericson

    The web is engineered serendipity.

  50. stevenberlinjohnson

    Thanks everyone — and Fred — for the great comments and kind words. I spent a few minutes just now reading through everything. Hope to see some of you on the book tour, starting October 5th.

  51. Muneeb Ali

    There is a famous talk by Richard Hamming (given in 1986 at Bellcore) about creativity and doing groundbreaking work. His context was big science, but it equally applies to other areas as well. The two ideas presented by Steven are similar, only Hamming was putting them in different words:1) โ€œEverybody who has studied creativity is driven finally to saying, โ€œcreativity comes out of your subconscious.” Somehow, suddenly, there it is. It just appears. Well, we know very little about the subconscious; but one thing you are pretty well aware of is that your dreams also come out of your subconscious. And you’re aware your dreams are, to a fair extent, a reworking of the experiences of the day. If you are deeply immersed and committed to a topic, day after day after day, your subconscious has nothing to do but work on your problem. And so you wake up one morning, or on some afternoon, and there’s the answer.โ€ – Richard Hamming. This is what Steven calls the “slow hunch”, I think.2) In the later part Steven talks about being connected and how the information overload, instead of being harmful, is often useful. Hamming talked about this in terms of researchers who worked with their office doors closed and the ones who worked with their doors open. In the short run, it might seem that people with closed doors were doing more work per day, but in the long run they missed the important problems in their field and most groundbreaking works actually came from people who were open to talking to others.3) Steven doesn’t talk about luck that much (at least not in the 4 minute talk). Luck is important to discuss because a significant percentage of people do think that big ideas come by luck. Hamming’s way of dealing with luck is that “luck favors the prepared mind” i.e., sure there can be some luck involved with all big ideas e.g., we can say that Sergey and Larry got lucky and had the right idea at the right time, but if they weren’t prepared i.e., not already working day in and day out on the problem, their “slow hunch” would have never evolved into what we today call Google.I thought it’s interesting that accomplished researchers back in the 80s were coming to almost the same conclusions that more contemporary folks are talking about today.

  52. Michael Diamant


  53. Jeff Vincent

    The Steven Johnson TED Talk was awesome. One of the best I’ve seen, I think. I also found myself nodding during his story of innovation happening around the lab table on Friday afternoons, drinking (homemade?) brew and discussing mistakes and errors. I’ve found those types of meetings to be the best source of new ideas – Fred, thank you for the post! I look forward to reading Steven’s book.

  54. Linda Wood

    I guess this is why we have a need to find our ‘tribe’, the people who are interested in and doing the same things as us. The connection enables us to progress together.And from someone who tried to ‘go it alone’ for too long, this is the sound of a penny dropping.Cheers, Linda Woodwww.lindawood.com.au

  55. Connor Murphy

    Hi Fred,You should check the recent Creativity World Forum talk on ‘Good Ideas’ by John Cleese of Monty Python. In this short talk he outlines the concept of needing ‘space’ – both in terms of time and location – in order to fuel the creative/idea process. Inspirational stuff and a brilliant speaker.http://www.youtube.com/watc…Connor

  56. Doug

    I like that image of incubation because it is accurate. It’s doesn’t look like a hive of frenetic, creative, activity. I don’t know who first combined the words startup and incubator (Idealab?), and why it’s stuck, but it really doesn’t work unless the sponsor can bear to see no progress and no apparent activity for long periods of time. He transitions a bit quickly into the need for ideas to collide. Having anything collide under that hen doesn’t seem advisable.

  57. Fernando Gutierrez

    Yeah, they are great. This animation is about what motivates people to work (it’s not only money) and it’s really cool:http://www.youtube.com/watc

  58. Tereza

    Yeah I really like that one. In fact it’s the one I thought was going to play above.It’s really worthwhile, if anyone here hasn’t seen it.

  59. Donna Brewington White

    Ditto! (worthwhile) (That’ll teach me. I bypassed the one Fred shared thinking it was the one Fernando recommended a few weeks back.)