Thursday, 1 December 2011

Where good ideas come from

Steven Johnson wrote a book on creativity and innovations "Where good ideas come from - The seven patterns of innovation". The book is very well written, very captivating. In fact, I was reading another book (written by a scientist), which I put on hold to be able to read Good Ideas.

Afterwards, I am somewhat disappointed by the book. It was captivating, the examples where interesting and many references worth diving into, but I did not learn much about innovation and creativity. I expect that many people who were already interested in the topic, will feel the same.

In the last chapter Johnson tries to do some science himself. He takes a long list of innovations and divides them up along two axis: individual versus team work (networked) and market versus non-market. Most of the innovations are in the category networked and non-market. He finds this interesting as markets are supposed to be so great and market incentives should lead people to make more inventions, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

If you look at the innovations themselves, you quickly notice that the market innovations include some services and are mainly product and their components: airplane, steel, induction motor, contact lenses, etc. The non-market innovations do include some consumer products, but are mainly scientific ideas, theories, discoveries and instruments: Braille, periodic table, RNS splicing, Chloroform, EKG, cosmic background radiation, etc.

Depending on how much consumer products and how many scientific ideas you put into the list, you can get any ratio of market to non-market innovations. Furthermore, wouldn't the Western societies give most money for basic research to universities, the list would also have been very different. Thus it is not possible to conclude from this list, whether market or non-market forces are best at innovating.

I like Johnsons conclusion, I think he is right from an understanding of what motivates people to innovate, but you cannot reach this conclusion from the analysis in the last chapter.

Want to read something good by Steven Johnson? Read his book Emergence or go to his blog, with many interesting ideas on innovation on the internet.

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