The image of the ah ha moment, the light bulb event, Rodin’s statue of the solitary thinker are commonly used images. Steven Johnson says that those images are not the way that most ideas happen. Listen as he begins and ends his talk with a coffee house and winds through the development of good ideas.

Why you should listen:

A dynamic writer and speaker, Johnson crafts captivating theories that draw on a dizzying array of disciplines, without ever leaving his audience behind. Author Kurt Anderson described Johnson’s book Emergence as “thoughtful and lucid and charming and staggeringly smart.” The same could be said for Johnson himself. His big-brained, multi-disciplinary theories make him one of his generation’s more intriguing thinkers. His books take the reader on a journey — following the twists and turns his own mind makes as he connects seemingly disparate ideas: ants and cities, interface design and Victorian novels.

Johnson’s breakout 2005 title, Everything Bad Is Good for You , took the provocative stance that our fear and loathing of popular culture is misplaced; video games and TV shows, he argues, are actually making us smarter. His appearances on The Daily Show and Charlie Rose cemented his reputation as a cogent thinker who could also pull more than his share of laughs. His most recent work, The Ghost Map, goes in another direction entirely: It tells the story of a cholera outbreak in 1854 London, from the perspective of the city residents, the doctors chasing the disease, and the pathogen itself. The book shows how the epidemic brought about profound changes in science, cities and modern society. His upcoming work, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, tells the fascinating stories of great ideas and great thinkers across disciplines.

Who is he:

No mere chronicler of technology, Johnson is himself a longtime innovator in the web world: He was founder and Editor in Chief of FEED, one of the earliest and most interesting online magazines. He cofounded Patch, an intriguing website that maps online conversations to real-world neighborhoods, and — and is an advisor to many other startups, including Medium and Jelly. He is the host and co-creator of the new PBS and BBC television series How We Got to Now, airing in the fall of 2014.


  1. There were two important factors in the establishment of the coffee house in England: these were that people were not drinking ____________ and that there was a ____________ of people.
  1. Johnson went looking for patterns where good ideas had come from. He concluded that a new idea is literally a new neural network: so he thinks the best idea generator spaces are those that encourage ___________.
  1. Johnson says that most innovation comes from A) our own thinking, B) people we’ve learned from, C) friends and colleges, D) all of the above, although we may stitch them in new ways.
  1. The most likely place for a new good idea in a science lab is A) in the actual lab, B) around the water cooler, at the lab picnic, or D) at the weekly lab meeting.
  1. What does he mean by the “Slow Hunch”?
  1. What does he mean “Chance favors the connected mind”?

Where good ideas come from with Steven Johnson


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