One of our most innovative, popular thinkers takes on - in exhilarating style - one of our key questions: "Where do good ideas come from?"
With Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson pairs the insight of his best-selling Everything Bad Is Good for You and the dazzling erudition of The Ghost Map and The Invention of Air to address an urgent and universal question: What sparks the flash of brilliance? How does groundbreaking innovation happen?
Answering in his infectious, culturally omnivorous style, using his fluency in fields from neurobiology to popular culture, Johnson provides the complete, exciting, and encouraging story of how we generate the ideas that push our careers, our lives, our society, and our culture forward.
©2010 Steven Johnson (P)2010 Penguin Audio
Steven Johnson has written an ambitious book here. I learned a great deal about innovation and he made me think on multiple levels. Without repeating the book contents noted in earlier reviews, I would say that Chapter 4 was an eye opener for me. It dealt with networking, note taking, and related software. It moves the reader and practitioner beyond Brain Storming for sure. That one chapter is worth the price of the book. If you have read widely in the areas of innovation and technology this book may not be another for your list. If you want a broad orientation in a package that contains many, many ideas, this book may well be your choice. It is well written, informative, and the reading of Eric Singer is excellent. The final chapter is a summary and conclusion that you will not want to omit from your hearing. I really hope that Johnson will produce another book greatly expanding on his ideas outlined in Chapter 4.
For someone trying to invent good ideas, create an environment that leads to them, or just understand how they come about, this book is a gem. It is not a how-to per se, but the analysis is intriguing, fresh, and relevant, and the narration gives it shape and energy, making it a pleasure to follow.
● The book brings together a diverse range of views of innovation. This includes those who believe innovation needs walled gardens and a free market, as well as those who believe it needs open communities where ideas can be shared. The book balances these perspectives beautifully. (Note: Much of this synthesis comes in the book's conclusion.)
● The parallels with biological innovation are absolutely relevant and used pointedly for helping you to understand innovation in societies. They strengthen the points about modern innovation considerably. (Note: Some of it might seem banal to a biologist. I personally know very little about biology.)
● Narration really made the book for me. The book is arguing a point of view, so it's entirely appropriate that the narrator bring some spirit into it. To me, it felt genuine, as if the author were arguing the points himself.
● Accents used by the narrator seemed perfectly appropriate to me. I have no idea if they were accurate or not, but since he was quoting a variety of perspectives, it helped make boundaries between voices and it made the reading more engaging.
As a doctoral student in computer science trying to develop something new, this book was helpful and influential. Compared to other books I've read, and the content of a couple of related courses I've taken in recent years, this was the most satisfying and most useful perspective I've encountered so far. Thus, I was surprised by some of the criticism from some others who listened to this book and reviewed it here.
Note: I have no connection to the publisher, author, narrator, producer, etc. I found the book via a recommendation from a prominent researcher.
I don't normally write reviews of the books I listen to. In this case my opinion of the book is so much higher than the general tone of the other reviewers that I felt compelled to share my views.
I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book finding it both valuable for ideas on increasing my own creativity and interesting from a historical science perspective. The reviews on Amazon are much more skewed towards the positive end than are the reviews here, and the Amazon reviews are more useful regarding the contents of this book.
Regarding the narration: I liked it. I found the narrator's tone engaging. This narrator decided to differentiate quoted text from the primary author's text by using an accent for the quoted text. While the narrator's accent selection was sometimes amusing, it was never distracting and certainly not irritating (as others reported). When an audio work quotes another work, there is always the potential for confusion of when the quote ends. One solution would be to state “end quote”, but that would be distracting. I found that the narrator's decision to differentiate quotes with an accent provided clarity of attribution while maintaining the flow of the work.
Accurately depicts innovation
The best thing about this book is the careful way Johnson crafts his case. His concept of where good ideas come from is not theoretical, but based in the history of innovation by humankind from prehistory through now.
I especially enjoyed his vignettes covering everything from Gutenberg's press to the jazz sounds of Miles Davis to the development of Twitter conventions by the twitter community. If I have to pick just one though, it would be the part about commonplacing and how that practice evolved into the world wide web.
Overall, this book was interesting, albeit repetitive. The author's belief that open platforms lead to more innovation was clear throughout, at times to the neglect of alternatives. The arguments could have used more evidence and fewer platitudes. It was strongest when it focused on biological innovation as a metaphor for ideas.
The reading was less than ideal, at least for my taste. I tend to like dramatic readings, but this one was over the top even for me. His voice and pronunciation were pleasant enough, but he felt it necessary to fake accents for every quote. I wouldn't say that it disrupted my ability to enjoy the book, but it didn't help, and I did find myself groaning with each "impression."
mostly nonfiction listener
Understanding how ideas are born should be among the top concerns of people in the higher ed business. Johnson provides us with a map.
If you are looking to understand the science and history around innovation grounded in facts that span the life of Ford, 3M, and Apple then this is the book for you.
Steven does a good job beating (read repetitive) into the science behind what makes innovation so special and albeit hard to manufacture.
It has been a while but I am reviewing this before I close the account for future readers. I know I liked this book and it skips about like the old show "Connections" (not that old), where it flits from idea to idea like a butterfly to flowers. So if that is going to bother you, and you want in-depth on a single subject, then look elsewhere. I have liked all this author's books and this one is narrated very well with a "normal" reading, not stuffy, no strange voice, no over-drama, no monotone. How novel of an idea, no? General intellectual interest with flairs of history and science, this one felt more like a survey if I recall correctly and touches on the author's previous topics (Dr Snow and Priestly). Of the 3 books I have read by this author I prefer the book on Priestly "The Invention of Air" best and would rank "The Ghost Map" second if not for some super-baritoney narration.
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