Where Good Ideas Come from - Deepstash
Where Good Ideas Come from


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Where Good Ideas Come from

by Steven Johnson

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  • Creating a fertile environment (a mix of strict and relaxed areas like MIT’s Building 20 and Microsoft's Building 99) and having good people around will aid you in becoming more creative with observations and ideas.
  • Innovation follows patterns (no matter what field the idea is a part of) and it is merely a fact of exploiting these natural tendencies. Individual strengths and intelligence do play a role but there are bigger pictures that innovation can be attributed to.


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  • The connection of similar minds is important. You can understand how people of the same field differ in attitudes towards certain topics, this understanding can help improve on the initial idea.
  • Tires to sandals principle: Use what you’ve got because almost always that is good enough and sometimes even better (baby incubators out of automobile parts)
  • Be observant of problems around you

New ideas are just the reuse of old parts into a different combination


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  • Don’t keep thinking, start building your idea right from the get-go
  • An idea should not be a single strand, it must be a very vast and sufficiently flexible network. (Not too stiff and not too chaotic either, networks must be liquid)
  • “Spillover”: when information is shared with a new group of people sparking a chain of new ideas among the listeners. (A whole group is not smart, to begin with but individuals sharing knowledge make the group smarter)


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  • The eureka moment often doesn’t happen at the work desk but during casual discussion of the work with others who inquire and force you to delve deeper. (Doing it solo is only going to get you so far, a peer group is required)
  • Many partial ideas have no practical value of themselves but in the environment of a liquid network, the parts can connect to a functioning prototype

Hold on to your hunches and let them brew as long as they can. (Eureka moments are just hunches finally taking shape.) In order to do so, keep a ‘commonplace notebook’ to write down these hunches whenever they come up.


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  • If something is useful for you, it is always useful for someone else
  • Even as a student, you can use the 20% rule: five hours of work and a required one hour of “me time” to do your own projects to be practised every day

A little chaos is good once in a while, it allows accidental connections (serendipity) that may prove highly useful. There are ways to consciously put yourself into a dream state. An idea to stimulate this randomness is to take a walk, away from the routine of life--- just you with your thoughts


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  • Reading a varied assortment of authors and topics helps develop yourself. 
  • If you can’t make time to read every day, allot ‘reading vacation days/sabbaticals’ where you can marathon through a chosen set of books in one go. 
  • This cramping of ideas may even possibly be better suited for making new connections between subjects you hadn’t thought possible.


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  • Actively try to make yourself the bridge between different groups of people, always make the effort to expand your social circle (coffeehouse model), the interweaving of seemingly distant ideas is a common form of creatively (strength of weak ties)
  • Be inquisitive about topics beyond your favoured expertise, keep a constant assortment of hobbies to lean on to
  • Multitask: switch between projects often, the other project ideas may still linger in the background and mature during this apparent stagnation period
  • It may be beneficial to test ideas that go beyond the traditional limits of a field.


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