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Notes from "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation"

These are my notes from the book "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation" by Steven Johnson.

Knowledge and Power by George Gilder

The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table.

There is nothing natural about the artificial scarcity of intellectual property law. Those laws are deliberate interventions crafted by human intelligence and are enforced almost entirely by non-market powers. (Thomas) Jefferson's point in his letter to McPherson, is that if you really want to get into a debate about which system is more natural than the free flow of ideas is always going to trump the artificial scarcity of patents. Ideas are intrinsically copyable in a way that food and fuel are not. You have to build dams to keep ideas from flowing. Chance favors the connected mind.

The trick is to figure out ways to explore the edges of possibility that surround you. This can be as simple as changing the physical environment you work in, or cultivating a specific kind of social network, or maintaining certain habits in the way you seek out and store information.

What kind of environment creates good ideas? The simplest way to answer it is this: innovative environments are better at helping their inhabitants explore the adjacent possible because they expose a wide and diverse sample of spare parts, mechanical or conceptual, and they encourage novel ways of recombining those parts. Environments that block or limit those new combinations by punishing experimentation, by obscuring certain branches of possibility, by making the current state so satisfying that no one bothers to explore the edges, will, on average, generate and circulate fewer innovations than environments that encourage exploration.

When life gets creative it has a tendency to gravitate towards certain recurring patterns, whether those patterns are emergent and self organizing or whether they are deliberately crafted by human agents. There are many ways to measure innovation but perhaps the most elemental yardstick, as far as technology is concerned, revolves around the job that the technology in question lets you do. All else being equal, a breakthrough that lets you execute two jobs that were impossible before is twice as innovative as one that lets you do only one new thing. Metabolism scales to mass to the -1/4 power.

Go for a walk. Cultivate hunches. Write everything down. Embrace serendipity. Make generative mistakes. Take on multiple hobbies. Frequent coffee houses and other liquid networks. Follow the links. Let others build on your ideas. Borrow. Recycle. Reinvent. Build a tangled bank.


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