Where do good ideas come from?

Posted on March 11, 2013


One of the required readings from Week 1 of our Strategic Innovation class is a review that Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote for the book Where Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. In the article, Gates summarizes some patterns that Johnson had identified as “conditions” for innovation:

  • The “adjacent possible” (a term which I really like), or “the idea that what is achievable today is defined by the various combinations of events and activities that have occurred prior”;
  • “Liquid networks” that are “flexible enough to facilitate dynamic connections between good ideas, but structured enough to support and hold them”;
  • The “the slow hunch”, which as the name suggests is the slow, continuous development of an idea over a period of time, as opposed to the overly romanticized “Eureka” moment;
  • The “serendipitous collision” of ideas, which Johnsons says can be brought about by a combination of “dreams, contemplative walks, long showers, and carving out time to read a variety of books and papers.”

“All of us have great ideas from time to time,” Gates writes. “The challenge is how to put more of them into action to help solve the world’s biggest problems. Writers like Johnson remind us that good ideas are most often the result of people building on other’s ideas – either individually or together – and having a fertile environment in which they can prosper.”

I myself will be writing more about the idea-generation process in succeeding blog posts. In the meantime, here’s Steven Johnson’s 2010 TED talk about the same topic as his book: Where Good Ideas Come From. I hope it will inspire you for the week ahead :)