Where Good Ideas Come From

Today I went to my first book club, hosted by the lovely Bethnal Green Ventures (without having read the book, not entirely advisable but I am becoming more brave in my old age…)

‘Where Good Ideas Come From: The History of Natural Innovation’ by Steven Johnson highlights the great innovations of the modern age. To quote the literary oracle Amazon, Johnson “identifies the five key principles to the genesis of great ideas, from the cultivation of hunches to the importance of connectivity and how best to make use of new technologies.”


Our little group discussed how startups work amongst a buzzing community, our own ides of where innovation is in 2012 as well as how inventions tend to happen when the environment is right for them. Sometimes other innovations need to come before them (Youtube needed to wait for flash before it could be created). There is often a bunch of people thinking of the same thing at the same time.

This makes it a tad harder in this day and age of open source, transparent incubation hubs and collaborative working to become the one true pioneer of a new and shining idea. 

But you know what, I recon that’s for the better.

You see, you need to be truly brave to hold up a new idea, by yourself, against all of that collaborative knowledge and power. I admire those who do, but I don’t think it’s entireley necessary.

Incase you don’t yet know me very well; I’m very much a team player – I enjoy collaborative projects immensely. To me, there is no thing better than sharing an idea with someone; when you can describe it to each other and build on it just with sound affects, gestures and marks on a sheet of paper.


Tonight’s discussion brought to light the differences I’ve found moving from a young startup to what I still feel is a ‘large’ design company (at 30 people), and it brought it to light when we were talking about failure.


We’ve all heard the “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” from Samuel Beckett

It’s never a life-lesson that has sat well with me, along with purposefully throwing yourself out of your comfort zone (why?) Perhaps I’m yet to grow into them. 

I think it takes hindsight, experience and a greater feeling of solidity to be able to actually learn from your mistakes, rather than simply marking them as failed experiments and tossing them out. 

Perhaps this is because I’m now in a more stable working space, that the thought struck me tonight: that early startups (really early, first-time startups, and with them individual, first time graduates) are in that awkward situation where they need to fail, to learn, but are not quite used to learning from their mistakes.


I don’t, yet, have an answers to throw at this one. Us learners are truly at the mercy of those who have gone before us, the mentors and the documenters (incase I don’t say it enough, thank you). So thanks to this open source, transparent and collaborative working way of creating things might get a little easier.


Another interesting topic we chatted about this evening was the way in which innovation, or idea generation & development is given space and form in various different industries.
I’ve been taught to add to, move, shape, adapt, discuss, rip, stick and evolve an idea; take what does work, talk to people, make it more relevant, make it better, test it, change it. 

We heard today an example of an architecture firm who create the form of their building before considering the needs of the people in it, and of pitching and idea for a TV show, where the buzz words you use are placed to catch the ear of the person who can provide your funding.

It really got me thinking into how idea generation is seen and indeed expected in various industries. An idea I’d like to explore further…


Perhaps I’ll read the book now.


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