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Lyttleton

A very interesting read. I just finished your most recent book and passed it on to a friend. As a city dweller, I was especially drawn to the discussion of how city life is a boon for creativity and innovation.
What I've always appreciated about your books (and I think I've read all but maybe one) is your consistent optimism and wonder at how technology and interconnectivity improves our lives. It's a very exhilarating contrast to the constant nihilistic storm of commentators both off and online.

Jaredran

While this is all incredibly cool, do you believe that it's making your books better? Ever richer in serendipity and an even longer zoom than you were able to achieve 15 years ago? Or are you simply accessing the same pool of information faster?

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I would think he is able to access a whole new pool of information with key word searches and the information Google is able to assemble. Its really quite astounding when you think about the sheer numbers.

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No offense, but if there's a facebook like button, it'll be much easier for me to share.

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rabbit hole of the French railway design if I hadn't seen that map in grad school two decades ago. Same goes for the Hayek and the internet history as well. I had enough pre-existing knowledge to know that they belonged in the story, so when something about them got in my sights, I was ready to pounce on it.

4. Very few of the key links came from the traditional approach of reading a work and then following the citations included in the endnotes. The reading was still critical, of course, but the connective branches turned out to lie in the social layer of commentary outside of the work.

5. It’s been said it a thousand times before, by me and many others, but it's worth repeating again: people who think the Web is killing off serendipity are not using it correctly.

6. Finally, this simple, but amazing fact: almost none

Charming Charlie

It should also be said that at every step of the way you're able to filter out leads that would not be productive. Or perhaps that filtration happens as the narrative is being written about the research.

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Without his subconscious inspiration, you would've appeared much more attractive, and less Gingrich-esque.

Mccormicktim

> "people who think the Web is killing off serendipity are not using it correctly."

The discovery process you describe in your article is impressive and inspiring -- like your recent book Where Good Ideas Come From, which I read and enjoyed.  However, it is hardly representative of most Web users' access to or use of information.

The serendipity concern is based on what the 99% do, not you: evidence shows that most people use relatively few news sources, rarely switch away from accustomed tools (e.g. their search engine), Twitter posts come largely from 20k or so accounts (cf Yahoo Research "Who Twitters?" study by Wu, Watts, et al), and people increasingly get info from social networks of people who are often like-minded.

To suggest that people articulating the serendipity problem, e.g. Eli Pariser, generally do so because they personally don't know how to use the Web correctly isn't plausible or very generous.  Your readers would be well served by a more fair hearing of the idea and its reasoned proponents.

@mccormicktim

Sparkarch

Serendipity is the subject of the 2008 Darwin College Lecture Series. [http://sms.cam.ac.uk/collection/74]
I think your point 3 is dead on for serendipity. As a concept it rests on the sagacity part of its definition as much as chance. As the boy scouts say "be prepared." You can't be lucky if you don't see opportunity in the stream of chaos around you.

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discovery process you describe in your article is impressive and inspiring -- like your recent book Where Good Ideas Come From, which I read and enjoyed. However, it is hardly representative of most Web users' access to or use of information.

The serendipity concern is based on what the 99% do, not you: evidence shows that most people use relatively few news sources, rarely switch away from accustomed tools (e.g. their search engine), Twitter posts come largely from 20k or so accounts (cf Yahoo Research "Who Twitters?" study by Wu, Watts, et al), and people increasingly get info from social networks of people who are often like-minded.

To suggest that people articulating the serendipity problem, e.g. Eli Pariser, generally do so because they personally don't know how to use the Web correctly isn't

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There are other, more sensible ways to eliminate odors, the first of which is to clean up whatever's causing.

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Эффектная реклама на радио и в прессе.

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And Geneine, if you're going to comment, at least attempt a debatable point, unless you don't have one.

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should add that the responses I'm looking for on Twitter are links to longer discussions, not 140 character micro-essays.)

3. Priming is everything. All these new tools are incredible for making rapid-fire discoveries and associations, but you need a broad background of knowledge to prime you for those discoveries. I'm not sure I would have jumped down that wonderful rabbit hole of the French railway design if I hadn't seen that map in grad school two decades ago. Same goes for the Hayek and the internet history as well. I had enough pre-existing knowledge to know that they belonged in the story, so when something about them got in my sights, I was ready to pounce on it.

4. Very few of the key links came from the traditional approach of reading a work and then following the citations included in the endnotes. The reading was still critical, of course, but the connective branches turned out to lie in the social layer of commentary outside of the work.

5. It’s been said it a thousand times before, by me

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everything. All these new tools are incredible for making rapid-fire discoveries and associations, but you need a broad background of knowledge to prime you for those discoveries. I'm not sure I would have jumped down that wonderful rabbit hole of the French railway design if I hadn't seen that map in grad school two decades ago. Same goes for the Hayek and the internet history as well. I had enough pre-existing knowledge to know that they belonged in the story, so when something about them got in my sights, I was ready to pounce

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Twitter posts come largely from 20k or so accounts (cf Yahoo Research "Who Twitters?" study by Wu, Watts, et al

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And Geneine, if you're going to comment, at least attempt a debatable point, unless you don't have one.

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There are other, more sensible ways to eliminate odors, the first of which is to clean up whatever's causing.

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Folks are starting to get medieval on one another. Or maybe gang violence is not what it used to be in southern California.

Samad Aidane

It is great to see your statement about writing-while-still-researching.

I am following this approach right now in my research on what we can learn from latest brain research that we can apply to developing leaders. I stumbled on your book "Mind Wide Open" in the process and, by the way, found the last chapter "conclusion" some of the best writing on brain research I read so far.

Great to see that writing-while-still-researching can be achieved.

Natalija

Hi Stephen,
I saw your TED speech on Where Good Ideas Come From, and I dare to say you got it all wrong. I hope you don't mind hearing opposing thoughts on your "ideas". You missed the whole point, because in all of your speech and blog you never once mentioned the word intuition or gut feeling. Word hunch doesn't do it. The best ideas don't come from thinking or from intellect. They come from Higher consciousness to which we have access by means of intuition. Even better conditions for such great intuitive ideas than in cafeterias are in nature, meditation, temples or anywhere else where it is easy to connect to the Higher Cosciousness.
I suggest you reading this http://thefreepenguin.nl/DavidIckeNewsletters/Don't%20Think%20It%20...%20Know%20It%20-%20David%20Icke%20Website.pdf. Here David Icke explains the difference between thinking and knowing. Also, there are numerous popular science books that can inform you on this, linke Blink by Gladwell, Gut feelings by Gigerenzer (Max-Planck institute)...not to mention all the other books on intuition. Try to open your mind to it and reconsider.

Ed Manlove

A couple more paths that might lead you to where you are going...

A book entitled "Old Man Thunder, father of the bullet train" by Bill Hosokawa

The concept of "designing for informality" as talked about by Adam White and his cohorts at www.groupshot.com

sanusi

thats very good story but you did put the pics

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This is my first time i visit here. I found interesting things to many in your blog, mostly to the debate.

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My Photo
I'm a father of three boys, husband of one wife, and author of nine books, host of one television series, and co-founder of three web sites. We split our time between Brooklyn, NY and Marin County, CA. Personal correspondence should go to sbeej68 at gmail dot com. If you're interested in having me speak at an event, drop a line to Wesley Neff at the Leigh Bureau (WesN at Leighbureau dot com.)

My Books

  • Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

    Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
    A history of innovation accompanied by a 6-part TV series on PBS and the BBC, this was the first of my books to crack the top 5 on the NY Times bestseller list. Appropriately for a book that celebrates diverse networks, this was the most collaborative of any of my books. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age

    Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
    My first book-length attempt to organize my writings about emergence and networks into something resembling a political philosophy, which I called Peer Progressivism. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

    Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
    An exploration of environments that lead to breakthrough innovation, in science, technology, business, and the arts. I conceived it as the closing book in a trilogy on innovative thinking, after Ghost Map and Invention. But in a way, it completes an investigation that runs through all the books, and laid the groundwork for How We Got To Now. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Invention of Air

    The Invention of Air
    The story of the British radical chemist Joseph Priestley, who ended up having a Zelig-like role in the American Revolution. My version of a founding fathers book, and a reminder that most of the Enlightenment was driven by open source ideals. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Ghost Map

    The Ghost Map
    The story of a terrifying outbreak of cholera in 1854 London 1854 that ended up changing the world. An idea book wrapped around a page-turner. I like to think of it as a sequel to Emergence if Emergence had been a disease thriller. You can see a trailer for the book here. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

    Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter
    The title says it all. This one sparked a slightly insane international conversation about the state of pop culture -- and particularly games. There were more than a few dissenters, but the response was more positive than I had expected. And it got me on The Daily Show, which made it all worthwhile. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

    Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life
    My first best-seller, and the only book I've written in which I appear as a recurring character, subjecting myself to a battery of humiliating brain scans. The last chapter on Freud and the neuroscientific model of the mind is one of my personal favorites. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

    Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
    The story of bottom-up intelligence, from slime mold to Slashdot. Most of my books sold more copies than this one, but Emergence has influenced the most eclectic mix of fields: political campaigns, web business models, urban planning, the war on terror. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate

    Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
    My first. The book I wrote instead of finishing my dissertation, predicting the growing cultural significance of interface and information design. Still relevant, I think. But I haven't read it in a while, so who knows what's in there! (Available from IndieBound here.)

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