One of the key things you hope for with an “idea” book like Where Good Ideas Come From --beyond the book sales, or the turnout at the signings and lectures--is that it will actually spark a conversation. While Good Ideas is less conspicuously argumentative than the last big conversation-starter I wrote, Everything Bad Is Good For You, it does make a sustained argument about how societies innovate, and I’d hoped that reviewers and bloggers and op-ed columnists would pick up on that argument. I also hoped that the book itself would be a platform that others would build on, borrowing its ideas and applying them to new fields that I hadn’t explored in the book.
So it’s been really wonderful to see the sheer volume of responses to the book--not just the reviews, but all the features and extended blog posts and discussion threads, and even new software tools emerging over the past month. I’ve been trying to keep up with everything on Twitter, but thought I would take the time to pull some of the links together in a single blog post. If this seems a little excessive, I promise you this is only a fraction of the material out there about the book right now. (And I know there’s more to come.)
The Guardian feature ends with a discussion of the politics of open networks, which I then explored in my detail in this column from the NY Times Sunday business section: “... a few weeks ago, during the second stop on the tour for my new book, I found myself being interviewed in front of a Seattle audience and responding to an opening question that I had never been asked before: “Are you a Communist?” The question was intended as a joke, but like the best jokes, it played on the edges of an important and uncomfortable truth.” I also wrote a long feature for the Financial Times applying the book’s theories to the amazing surge of digital startup activity in my home town of New York.
In terms of reviews, here’s a small sample of recent appraisals of the book. The LA Times ran a very thoughtful and kind assessment, with some caveats: “Like all of Johnson's books, Where Good Ideas Comes From is fluidly written, entertaining and smart without being arcane. But is it any more successful than Renaissance recipes for turning lead into gold? ‘The more we embrace these patterns’ in innovative spaces, Johnson says, ‘the better we will be at tapping our extraordinary capacity for innovative thinking.’ I'm not sure it's that easy...
Less kind was Christopher Bray in The Independent, who seemed to confuse my argument with Malcolm Gladwell’s theories about genius in Outliers, despite the fact that I don’t talk about the concept of the genius at all in Good Ideas: “Blue-sky thinkers with their helicopter views will doubtless claim that Johnson's suggestions help them push the envelope, but the rest of us can see that his ‘adjacent possibles’ and ‘liquid networks’ are no more than the latest flimflam. At one point, Johnson tries to convince us that ideas grow out of ideas the way the natural world synergises. Beavers gnaw down trees in which woodpeckers drill holes in which songbirds nest – and in some way, I forget quite how, it's all a bit like Twitter.”
Jason Jones, at ProfHacker, reviews the book in the specific context of its uses in higher education: “This is also Johnson’s best-written book, and it’s an argument that this connection-making thinker was seemingly born to pursue. Full of stories of innovation from across the disciplines, but with recurring themes from biology, cities, the arts, and the web, Where Good Ideas Come From is an unmissable book for anyone who cares about creativity, innovation, networks, or higher education.” For the business market, 800CEOReads founder Jack Coverts writes in his review: “Where Good Ideas Come From is a book that requires some investment from the reader because of the complex nature of idea creation and evolution, and the fact that Johnson digs deep into it. But the great research and engaging stories make that investment small compared to the rewards. This is one of the best books of the year.”
This BBC Business feature includes a video clip airing on BBC World News this week; if you’d like to get a sense of what I sound and look like when I’m jetlagged, unshaven, and fighting a week-long cold and sore throat, this is the video for you! I thought these questions from Alan Jacobs at New Atlantis were very astute ones: “But as I read and enjoyed the book, I sometimes found myself asking questions that Johnson doesn't raise.... Can a society be overly innovative? Is it possible to produce more new idea, discoveries, and technologies than we can healthily incorporate?” In the Observer, Robert McCrum uses the book as a launching pad for an interesting discussion of literary creation.
And my favorite of all: Chris Whamond is developing a web application inspired by the book at slowhunch.com. As he puts it, “the big idea behind SlowHunch is that it connects ideas and enables them to cross-pollinate and build upon other ideas. This is a site for developing ideas, not just recording them.” Perhaps, when we’re done, each chapter of the book will have inspired a new web application or startup. Liquid Networks may be the “latest flimflam” but that doesn’t mean it won’t make a killer web site!