In Progress - Where do Ideas Come From?

Here's another image I'm working on that was once again inspired by an interview I heard on the Spark blog. This one was with Steven Johnson, the author of Where Do Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, a book that explores the conditions needed for innovation and invention. We all love a "Eureka!" moment, and many stories of some of history's greatest inventions are just that - a bright flash of insight that could only come from the mind of a genius. Or are they? Mr. Johnson explains in the interview that many of the greatest inventions - Gutenberg's press, for example - were more likely the result of seemingly random connections, and years of work.

I am particularly attracted to this idea, because I always seem to approach things in a roundabout way. I also really liked Mr. Johnson's idea of a connective environment being the necessary condition for real innovation. An interest in a wide variety of things, an eclectic circle of acquaintances and friends - all of these things drive innovation and creativity in ways that sometimes seem accidental.

In this image, I chose to use Gutenberg, since his story of visiting his friends at their winery and realizing that the wine press they used to crush the grapes would be the right model for his printing press was, I thought, a great start. The light bulb is to represent the "Eureka" moment, but I thought that carving it up into a puzzle was showing that the process is slower and much more painstaking. This is where I've stopped - I'm thinking about images for each puzzle piece to show different elements of the printing press. I feel like I'm missing the "connective environment" - but I also don't want to over-complicate the image. Simple is best.

As always, I love feedback, and I love hearing from you!


Avery said...

I read about that book in Wired. You can read the interview here:

When I read it, it also made me think about the "connected environment" idea. We really need to get out of our solo offices and be in a group space. Yeah, I'll get right on that. =)

As for your piece, and feedback, I would love to see puzzle pieces that don't fit. Like you have to slough through so much junk before you get to the "right" piece.

Chris Whamond said...

Hi, Kinnon! Beautiful illustration. A bunch of us in the #goodideas community are starting an open source web app (sort of like a "commonplace book") to connect our ideas and put @stevenbjohnson 's principles into practice:

We're going to 'crowd source' the design and grow the site based on our "hunches". We would LOVE to have your input.

You can read more about it here: .

By the way, @stevenbjohnson tweeted the idea out to everybody a few days ago (check his timeline) and FastCompany already interviewed me on the idea. You can post ideas in my blog comments if you're interested. Chris Whamond

Brad said...

Remember that old TV series "Connections"?

James Burke was arguing something very similar back in the late 1970s. I think he's right, too: we're not even standing on the shoulders of giants. We're standing on the shoulders of people who are standing on other shoulders.

I like the idea of pieces that don't fit, too. Sometimes you can't even find the right one, so you take what you've got and cram it in, or find another piece that will fit in between.