Steven Johnson Presents Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation

The Union League Club of Chicago's Authors Group

Business Book Roundtable

October 13, 2010: 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM

Luncheon followed by Johnson's presentation of his new book - Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation - Q&A and book signing.


The Union League of Chicago
65 West Jackson Boulevard
Chicago, Illinois

Driving Directions:Accessible by public transportation. Parking on-site, including valet.

Event Details

This is a book that tries to grapple with the question of why certain environments seem to be disproportionately skilled at generating and sharing good ideas. It’s a book, in other words, about the space of creativity. Part of the fun of it — though also the challenge of writing it — was that he looked at both cultural and natural systems. It examines human environments that have been unusually generative: the architecture of successful science labs, the information networks of the Web, the Enlightenment-era postal system, the public spaces of metropolitan cities, even the notebooks of great thinkers. It also looks at natural environments that have been biologically innovative: the coral reef and the rain forest, or the chemical soups that first gave birth to life’s good idea. The book is built around dozens of stories from the history of scientific, technological and cultural innovation: how Darwin’s "eureka moment" about natural selection turned out to be a myth; how Brian Eno invented a new musical convention by listening to too much AM radio; how Gutenberg borrowed a crucial idea from the wine industry to invent modern printing; why GPS was accidentally developed by a pair of twenty-somethings messing around with a microwave receiver; how a design team has created a infant incubator made entirely out of spare automobile parts. Steve distilled some meaningful—and hopefully useful—lessons out of all these stories, and so isolated seven distinct patterns that appear again and again in all these innovative environments. He first started working on this idea in the background as he was writing The Ghost Map, his book about John Snow’s brilliant solution to the mystery of cholera. In researching Where Ideas Come From, Mr. Johnson stumbled across the story of Joseph Priestley and the discovery of plant respiration, and got so inspired that he decided to write The Invention of Air first. At the time, it occurred to him that this new book would effectively turn out to be the theory lurking behind the narratives of Ghost Map and Invention; both those books were portraits of world-changing ideas and the environments that cultivated them. So he came to think of the three books as a kind of informal trilogy: two tight-focus case studies leading up to a wider vista. (Snow and Priestley each make small appearances in Where Good Ideas Come From.) This latest book differs from the last two in that it is prescriptive; it’s his version of a how-to book, supported with stories of great ideas from the past (along with a few stories of ideas that failed for interesting reasons.) If it works, you should walk away from it as a reader not just with some interesting anecdotes about the amazing biodiversity of a coral reef, or the invention of the vacuum tube, but with something a bit more practical: ideas for making your own spaces — where you work, where you think, where you pursue your hobbies, where you read — more innovative as well.




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Deadline: 10/12/2010


11:30 AM-1:00 PM: Lunch

Speaker Profiles

Steven Johnson (Speaker)

Steven Johnson is the best-selling author of four books on the intersection of science, technology and personal experience. His writings have influenced everything from the way political campaigns use the Internet, to cutting-edge ideas in urban planning, to the battle against 21st-century terrorism. Steven is a contributing editor for Wired magazine and a monthly columnist for Discover magazine. He is a Distinguished Writer In Residence at the New York University Department of Journalism. He lectures widely on technological, scientific, and cultural issues, both to corporate and education institutions. He was the cofounder and editor-in-chief of FEED, the revolutionary web magazine blending technology, science and culture with a truly innovative interface. Newsweek named him one of the “Fifty People Who Matter Most on the Internet.” In addition to his columns, he’s published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and many other periodicals. He’s also appeared on many high-profile televisions programs, including The Charlie Rose Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.


Dana Damyen 


Other Information

Business Attire Required. NO Jeans. Reservation required.