Where good ideas come from …

July 7, 2011

Steven Johnson talks in his TED presentation about the environments that are most stimulating for generating innovations.

He argues that great innovative ideas are not being formed during some individual Eureka moment. Rather, these ideas are formed in social places, ‘where ideas can have sex’ . Chaotic environments like ancient coffeehouses where ideas from various backgrounds were likely to come together and have unpredictable collisions. Next he makes conclusions how to facilitate the innovation process in a company, elaborating on these insights.

The idea I share with Johnson is very strong: innovation is a social event, not an individual event.

However, I tend to disagree on the idea that social gatherings are the sole stimulating environments for innovation. As the SAM (social adoption mechanism) explains, you need isolated innovators, developing their ideas away from any social guiding, in the first place. I do agree that these ideas indeed need the collision with gatekeepers and larger social contexts to refine and adapt these raw ideas … and that process could have well happened at a coffehouse.

It is this mechanism, the interaction between innovators and gatekeepers, that leads to powerful innovations.