Release year: 2010

Author: Steven Johnson

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Link to my handwritten notes


This book made me think a lot. I enjoyed how it took an almost anatomical approach to the concept of “the idea”. I think that the star quotes below will do a better than job me at summarizing what is interesting about this book. It’s a very “meta” book, and it’s challenging to discuss the idea of “how ideas work”, but the author does a very good job there. In particular, you’ll hear of how Darwin came to his famous Theory of Evolution, and the author will take you through all the twists and turns in Darwin’s method of working to really show you where good ideas come from. In my view, this book demolishes the myth of the “genius working in a lab”, and instead makes the bold statement that the ground zero of innovation is the conference table. Serendipity, the adjacent possible, the slow hunch, commonplacing, coffeehouses… these are all the practices that could lead you to your next big idea.

Luck favors the connected mind. Good luck!

Félix rating:

⭐ Star quotes

  1. (p. 29) Our ideas are works of bricolage, built out of and constrained by the spare parts, detritus and skills that surround them.
  2. (p. 31) The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore those boundaries. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.
  3. (p. 45) A good idea is a network. A new idea is a network of cells exploring the adjacent possible of connections that they can make in your mind.
  4. (p. 58) It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.
  5. (p. 61) The ground zero of innovation is not the microscope. It is the conference table.
  6. (p. 65) Information spillover is a feature, not a flaw.
  7. (p. 76) Hunches that don’t connect are doomed to star hunches.
  8. (p. 78) Sustaining the slow hunch is less a matter of perspiration than of cultivation. You give the hunch enough nourishment to keep it growing, and plant it in fertile soil, where its roots can make new connections. And then you give it time to bloom.
  9. (p. 78) The slow hunch is the rule, not the exception.
  10. (p. 84) “Commonplacing” involves transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. Maintaining a commonplace book enables one to lay up a fund of knowledge from which we may at all times select what is useful at in the various pursuits of life.
  11. (p. 87) You need a system for capturing hunches, but not necessarily categorizing them, because categories can build barriers between disparate ideas, restrict them to their own conceptual islands.
  12. (p. 101) Dreams are not somehow unveiling a repressed truth. Instead, it is our brain exploring, trying to find new truths by experimenting with novel combinations of neurons.
  13. (p. 134) The history of being spectacularly right has a shadow history lurking behind it: a much longer history of being spectacularly wrong, again and again. And not just wrong, but messy.
  14. (p. 136) Generative mistakes are generative precisely because they connect to slow hunches in the minds of their creators.
  15. (p. 137) Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.
  16. (p. 138) The error is needed to set off the truth, much as a dark background is required for exhibiting the brightness of a picture.
  17. (p. 142) It’s not enough to say “to err is human”. Error is what made humans possible in the first place.
  18. (p. 174) Chance favors the connected mind.
  19. (p. 191) Genres are the platforms and paradigms of the creative world. They fade into view, through a complicated set of shared signals passed between artists, each contributing different elements to the mix.
  20. (p. 199) Innovation thrives in discarded spaces.
  21. (p. 200) Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.
  22. (p. 209) When you don’t have to ask for permission, innovation thrives.
  23. (p. 235) Fourth-quadrant innovation (non-market network) creates a new open platform that commercial entities can them build upon, either by repackaging and refining the original breakthrough, or by developing emergent innovations on top of the underlying platform.
  24. (p. 243) The more government think of itself as an open platform instead of a centralized bureaucracy, the better it will be for all of us, citizens and activists and entrepreneurs alike.
  25. (p. 246) 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; build a tangled bank.