This is a short animated summary of Stephen Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, which looks at innovation from a complex systems perspective.

It highlights the importance of slow hunches as opposed to flashes of inspiration; suggests that borrowing and combining hunches has been the primary engine of innovation; and suggests what the internet is doing to our brains.


Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for pointing this out. One glaring omission for me was the absence of commentary on sustaining the ‘collisions’ that he outlines. Chance does indeed favour the prepared mind and we are more connected than ever. What is missing, however, is exploration around the sustaining dimensions of those connections. I have have a lot of great ideas on a lot of levels but they really gain traction and do something when they are held over a long period of time, personally and collectively with others. I think that the question to ask is how, amid a very mobile, distracted, cursory platform such as our current digital ecology, we sustain thought and practice long enough for real influence to occur.

    Perhaps some will consider that the wrong question, i.e. it’s about the evolution of the flock and the emergent properties are not held by anyone. That is partly true but there are aspects of research, experimentation, and design that require collective, sustained attention.

    He’s got a good angle on the ideas side, but could be more clear about how his question “What the internet does to our brains?” reflects issues around long and deep thought and practice. Mixing matters. Collisions matter. But you can’t fire a smelting furnace with a bunch of sparks – you need some serious energy densities to do that.

  2. […] animated video on ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ (h/t aid on the edge of […]

  3. […] Stuart Kauffman uses this concept to explain how such powerful biological innovations as sight and flight came into being. More recently, Steven Johnson showed that it’s also applicable to science, culture, and technology. […]


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About Ben Ramalingam

I am a researcher and writer specialising on international development and humanitarian issues. I am currently working on a number of consulting and advisory assignments for international agencies. I am also writing a book on complexity sciences and international aid which will be published by Oxford University Press. I hold Senior Research Associate and Visiting Fellow positions at the Institute of Development Studies, the Overseas Development Institute, and the London School of Economics.


Biology, Evolution, Innovation, Institutions, Knowledge and learning, Networks, Public Policy