Where Good Ideas Come From: Steven Johnson

It took someone far smarter than me-- the polymath Steven Johnson-- to explain what I am doing here at Sentence of Dave . . . though you would never guess, I am actually continuing a 17th and 18th century intellectual tradition . . . seriously . . . in Johnson's new book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, he discusses the English Enlightenment habit of keeping a "commonplace book" full of inspirational quotations, desultory thoughts, reactions to one's reading, opinions on current events, and a "vast miscellany of hunches," and most of the commonplace book keepers (such as Erasmus and Charles Darwin, Joseph Priestley, and John Locke) attempted to index their varied writings . . . but none of their indexing efforts worked as well as the internet, which Johnson believes has the right balance of organization and chaotic tension to spur new thoughts . . . and Johnson uses various "long view" examples-- including an awesome four squared grid categorizing two hundred major inventions from antiquity until now-- to show that good ideas often take a long time to form, with help from lots of different people and events, some serendipity, and often without the constraints of patents and corporations, and without the need for a single solitary genius who sees far beyond all others of his time; on the last page of his book he advises us to "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."

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