The space of innovation

This is a book about the space of innovation. Some environments squelch new ideas; some environments seem to breed them effortlessly. The city and the Web have been such engines of innovation because, for complicated historical reasons, they are both environments that are powerfully suited for the creation, diffusion, and adoption of good ideas. Neither environment is perfect, by any means. (Think of crimes rates in big cities, or the explosion of spam online.) But both the city and the Web possess an undeniable track record at generating innovation. In the same way, the “myriad tiny architects” of Darwin’s coral reef create an environment where biological innovation can flourish. If we want to understand where good ideas come from, we have to put them in context. Darwin’s world-changing idea unfolded inside his brain, but think of all the environments and tools he needed to piece it together: a ship, an archipelago, a notebook, a library, a coral reef. Our thought shapes the spaces we inhabit, and our spaces return the favor. The argument of this book is that a series of shared properties and patterns recur again and again in unusually fertile environments. I have distilled them down into seven patterns, each one occupying a separate chapter. The more we embrace these patterns – in our private work habits and hobbies, in our office environments, in the design of new software tools – the better we will be at tapping our extraordinary capacity for innovative thinking. 

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson – Riverhead Books