Environments for creativity

“Where Good Ideas Come From” (2010) by Steven Johnson

This book adduces seven recurring patterns that occur in innovative environments and enable creativity:

1) The adjacent possible: the inventor must use the components that exist in his environment. Gutenberg used a wine press for his printing press.

2) Liquid networks (collision, friction and collaboration): large cities, the coffee-house in the Age of the Enlightenment, the bohemian salons of Modernism, Internet, social networks… Chance favors the connective mind.

3) The slow hunch (time of incubation): it can take years for a hunch to blossom into a full-blown invention.

4) Serendipity (Eureka!)

5) Error: this can also be a creative force. Lee de Forest’s development of the audion diode and the triode was the result of erroneous thinking, and de Forest never understood how they worked.

6) Exaptation: vacuum tubes were developed for long-distance telephone networks and radio transmission and were later used for electronic computers.

7) Platforms: emergent platforms foster continual balancing between competitive and cooperative impulses. The competition keeps each organism from over-replicating and overrunning the platform space. The cooperation creates ways to recycle, conserve and thrive together with only scarce resources. The complex web of interdependencies results in lots of cross-fertilzation between solutions and innovative uses for cast off by-products. Together, the vitality thriving on or in the platform becomes very resilient and sustainable. The platform creators cannot go solo to get their job done. Coral needs algae to fuel their endeavors. Once a platform emerges, a staggering volume of biodiversity joins the party. The quantity and quality of innovations, adaptations, co-optations and reciprocities are an inspiration to us.


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