Where Good Ideas Come From By Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson’s book Where good ideas come from—the natural history of innovation is an amalgamation of well researched anecdotes. Innovative ideas don’t come as a eureka moment but rather form from remixing previous ideas and hunches. The book looks with a wide lens scope over many years to make the point that the evolution of ideas are very gradual even though they appear to make vast leaps. 

One of the main concepts of the book is the power of connecting ideas. The environment of ideas drastically affects how those ideas evolve into a working ideas. Some environments squelch new ideas; some environment seem to breed them effortlessly. 

Some of the examples used include: Darwin’s discovery of the origin of species theory, the creation of the internet, the renaissance, YouTube and Twitter. 

RATING: 4.5/5

RECOMMENDED FOR: anyone interesting in the evolution of ideas and inventions.


Adjacent Possible tells us that at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change that has yet to be unlocked. Breakthrough ideas appear to make a sudden acceleration on the timeline of innovation but are actually formed gradually. One door leads to another. One tweak or innovation can lead to an entirely new path to explore. 




  • A good idea is a network, thousands of neurons fire in sync with each other for the first time in your brain, and an idea pops in your consciousness. 
  • The human brain contains 100 trillion distinct neuronal connections, making it the largest and most complex network on earth. 
  • To make your mind more innovative, you have to place it inside environments that share the same network of ideas. Certain environments enhance the brains natural capacity to make new links of associations. 
  • Chance favors the connected mind.
  • In a low-density, chaotic network, ideas come and go. In the dense networks of the first cities, good ideas have a natural propensity to get into circulation. They spill over, and through that spilling they are preserved for future generations.
  • High density networks make it easier for innovation to happen, but they also serve essential function of storing these innovations. 
  • A city that was ten times larger than its neighbor wasn’t ten times more innovative; it was seventeen times more innovative. A metropolis fifty times bigger than a town was 130 times more innovative. 
  • When the first market towns emerge during the renaissance, they didn’t magically create some higher level group consciousness. They simply widened the pool minds that could come up with and share good ideas. This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.




  • Most great ideas coming to the world half-baked, more hunch than revelation. They have the seeds of something profound, but they lack a key element that can turn the hunch into something truly powerful.
  • Most hunches that turn into important innovations unfold over a long time frame. They start with a big sense that there’s a solution to a problem that hasn’t yet been proposed, and they linger in the shadows of the minds, assembling new connections and gaining strength. Then one day they are transformed into something more substantial: sometimes jolted out by some newly discovered trove of information, or by another hunch lingering in another mind. 
  • Most slow hunches never last long enough to turn into something useful, because they pass in and out of our memory too quickly. Part of the secret of hunch cultivation is simple: write everything down.
  • Reading remains an unsurpassed vehicle for the transmission of interesting new ideas and perspectives. 

EXAPTATION: an organism develops a trait optimized for a specific use, but then the trait gets hijacked for a completely different function.

  • Exaptations helps us explore the new possibilities that lurk behind doors. A match you light to illuminate a darkened room turns out to have a completely different use when you open the door and discover a room with a pile of logs in the fireplace in it. A tool that helps you seen in one context ends up helping you keep warm in another. That’s the essence of exaptation. 
  • A world where diverse mix of distinct professionals and passions overlap a world where exaptations thrive.
  • With a few exceptions most innovations follow the 10/10 rule: A decade to build the new platform, and a decade for it to find a mass audience.
  • Part of coming up with a good idea is discovering what spare parts can be used for potential new configurations. Having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table. 
  • Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle; reinvent.


  • Scientist believe that somewhere between a million and ten million distinct species live in coral reefs around the world, despite the fact that those reefs only occupy one-tenth of one percent of the planet’s surface.

  • Before the invention of Air Conditioning Madison Square Theater in Manhattan used four tons of ice each night to make summertime evenings tolerable for their patrons.

You can check out the book on:


One thought on “Where Good Ideas Come From By Steven Johnson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s