Every once in a while I trip across a book that intrigues me right out of the gate and holds my attention to the very end.  I have to say, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation is one of those books.  The newest by Steven Johnson, this one takes a painstaking look at innovation from the vantage point of evolutionary science.  And let me be quick to add, regardless of your first glance reaction to the notion of evolution…this book is packed with great insight to the way innovation happens.

Where Good Ideas Comes From takes a look at seven concepts that can be demonstrated in natural history and illustrated in contemporary innovation.  For example, the first concept Johnson teases out is the idea of the adjacent possible; essentially the principle that every new development puts you into a next space that often makes ideas implementable that weren’t before.  A phrase coined by scientist Stuart Kauffman, “the adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself (p. 31).”

If you’ve followed along here at StrategyCentral.org (or over on MarkHowellLive.com) you might recognize right away the reason I was intrigued by the concept of the adjacent possible.  I’ve written quite a bit about Glen Hiemstra’s three cone model, in fact, it’s become the basis for my talk on getting to there.  One of the concepts in the talk (and Hiemstra’s diagram) is the idea that in handcrafting a preferred future for your organization (a vision):

  • some of what you land on comes from the probable future (where your organization will end up if you just keep doing what you’re doing now)
  • some will be the fruit of identifying the best of what’s possible and energetically going after that
  • and some will actually come from outside what is currently possible

The concept of the adjacent possible gives me a way to think about how some of the preferred future can develop from outside or beyond what’s currently possible.

Where Good Ideas Come From takes a look at six other concepts in addition to the adjacent possible and each one has a number of insights and if you’re like me, your copy will be underlined, dogeared and starred with quotes and references you want to come back to later.

If you’re looking for a book that will help you think outside the box, or step into the adjacent possible, Where Good Ideas Come From should be on your list.

Review: Where Good Ideas Come From
  • Mark, thanks for re-posting this review of Johnson’s book. Just shared this post on facebook (FYI).

    Have you seen the this visual summary:


    Thanks again for your generous willingness to make the rest of aware of powerful resources.

    Keep creating…great ideas,

  • Mark Howell

    Thanks for posting the video! I had seen it…but forgotten it! It gives a great visual summary of the ideas of the book!