Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Where Good Ideas Come From: Book Review

Where Good Ideas Come From - The Natural History of Innovation is a surprisingly fast read. The title makes it sound like it is one of those books which try to explain everything under the sun, but actually this book is not that self-obsessed :D
When i read books which are trying to establish a new theory or a thought line, i try not to approve or disprove it. I like to appreciate the author for bringing about a novel idea, for seeing a pattern that has not been seen before. I also try not to get into the 'how will this new thought ultimately help me' loop. Because that loop is endless.

This chapter makes a wonderful observation that we get more creative when we are more connected. Connected to other people, people different from us, to diverse activities and what not. Charles Darwin realised the same in the natural world when he was visiting coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. Coral reefs house roughly a quarter of all known species of marine life and yet, occupy only 0.1% of the earth's surface. That is remarkable density of diversity, so to say. Likewise, we humans got a bump in our innovations when we started living in cities, which expose us to diverse people and cultures every day. And the Internet is taking things to a whole new level now.

We are not born with Ideas, we collect them from the people and places that surround us. So naturally, our ideas are also limited by them. When people say: Damn, how does she think of such wonderful things? That's most likely because she is living a very interesting life with diverse experiences. Routine will only get you thus far.

The computer scientist Christopher Langton observed several decades ago that innovative systems have a tendency to gravitate towards the "edge of chaos": the fertile zone between too much order and too much anarchy.
 and this one
Dunbar's research suggests one vaguely reassuring thought: even with all the advanced technology of a leading molecular biology lab, the most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop.
need i say more?

Discovering something new is an amazing experience. We remember that moment of realization (tube-light moment) long after its gone. But this chapter suggests that great discoveries (about yourself and the world) start as slow hunches. We need to nurture them, cultivate them, give them time and attention. Tim Berners-Lee (the creator of the Internet) had a hunch about information being connected like a web. It took him 10 years to realized that idea. Charles Darwin and a feeling that species adapt for survival, years before he published his most famous work On the Origin of Species.
Because these slow hunches need so much time to develop, they are fragile creatures, easily lost to the more pressing needs of day-to-day issues. But that long incubation period is also their strength, because true insights require you think something that no one has thought before in quiet the same way. Flash judgements are often that - judgements. Is the guy trustworthy? Is the sculpture fake? A new idea is something larger than that: it's a new perspective on a problem, or a recognition of a new opportunity that has gone unexplored to date. Those kinds of breakthroughs usually take time to develop.
The shower or stroll removes you from the task-based focus of modern life - paying bills, answering e-mail, helping kids with homework - and deposits you in a more associative state. Given enough time, your mind will often stumble across some old connection that it had long overlooked, and you experience that delightful feeling of private serendipity: Why didn't I think of this before?

There are more chapters and many intriguing anecdotes about the great discoveries and inventions in human history. For those interested in such matters, i would recommend a quick read.



Post a Comment

<< Home