Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

According to Steven Johnson, the absolute best ideas are not based around that spark of genius, that moment of aha! Instead, Johnson argues in his book Where Good Ideas Come From that great ideas follow a certain pattern that we can see in most stories of invention, but also coral reefs and cities.

Johnson suggests that ideas have a certain building and blending pattern that are unique to them. He turns the dynamic from a genius hatching an idea to one that is cultivated slowly, distilling and building over time until the idea itself actually takes a final shape.

Rather than long hours spent in the lab, Johnson finds over and over again that the best ideas were developed during conversations, over long walks with colleagues, and in writing ideas down over a long period of time. He also talks about the combustible nature of ideas–how places where ideas are allowed to develop and grow help create new ideas. Think of the coffee shop culture in 19th century Europe, or more modern mixing places, like TED Talks.

Of the general pattern for better developing your own ideas, Johnson writes:

“The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wiser than the sum of its parts. 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, re-invent.”

In that line of thought, besides frequenting your own local coffee shop more and writing down more of your ideas, find some more of your own thinking juice with this list of my favorite TED videos.

Have your own favorite TED videos? Shout ‘em out in the comments! 

About nikki_steele

Freelance writer and editor. Creator of BookPairing blog.
This entry was posted in Book to Life Pairings, Pairings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Amanda @ On a Book Bender

    I like to think that those “aha!” moments are the moments when everything we’ve been ruminating over suddenly comes together. I often get random “I should do THIS!” thoughts, but I think it’s because my brain connects the action with something I’ve been pondering for a while, usually as I’m doing something completely unrelated.

    Like I decided to Storify all my #writingtips tweets from @amshofner for the month of October. But before that “aha!” moment was a long process of wanting to find ways to showcase my experience and tweeting #writingtips as a way to share something other than links on Twitter.

    • http://www.bookpairing.com/ Nikki Steele

      Yep, that’s exactly how he describes it in the book–a general growing awareness of an idea that builds and builds connections before actually BANG turning into an idea.

      Ooh I really like that idea!

  • http://www.LoveAtFirstBook.com/ Love at First Book

    This book sounds sooo good! My husband read Imagine, which is also about ideas in a way. Have you read that one?

    • http://www.bookpairing.com/ Nikki Steele

      I have not — will have to check it out!

  • Kim Ukura

    I adore Steven Johnson. He’s so smart and clear and interesting in everything he writes. I haven’t gotten to this one yet, but I’m excited to pick it up. Those patterns for ideas ring true to me in my writing. Sometimes you just need space to let ideas percolate before they go down on the page.

    • http://www.bookpairing.com/ Nikki Steele

      Absolutely! I’ve tried to give myself space for ideas after reading this one and have realized that it’s better to take a walk or a shower to let an idea develop, rather than sitting and looking at a blank screen.