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Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson - 3 Big Ideas

Biology, Computer science, pop-culture, literal esotericism, and the path to good ideas.


Welcome to 3 Things You Can Use, where Maddi and I decode self-improvement and entrepreneurship through books, three things at a time. This week's book is Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, by Steven Johnson.

"Answering in his infectious, culturally omnivorous style, using his fluency in fields from neurobiology to popular culture, Johnson provides the complete, exciting, and encouraging story of how we generate the ideas that push our careers, our lives, our society, and our culture forward."


So, what are three things we can use from this book?

3 Things You Can Use

1. Take a Walk

Or a shower... or do some coloring, brush your teeth...

If you want to have a better shot at that lightbulb moment, remove yourself from task-orientation.

Do something mindless that you can be present and in the moment for.

While in a task-oriented mindset, your brain's workings and innards will be guided and funneled towards the task you are working on, thinking of solutions and molding your game plan.

Stepping out of this mode will remove the funnel and open up your brain to firing random patterns of neurons to test for connections and come up with ideas.

This is why you may find that most of your good ideas come while you are in the shower.

One of the best ways to take advantage of this principle is walking. Take a walk to get the blood going, giving your energy, slow things down, bringing you out of fight or flight mode, and letting your brain do it's thing, making connections in the background while you observe and enjoy.

2. Write it Down

New ideas usually come from connections between different ideas.

Think, peanut butter sandwich is good.

Bananas are good.

Peanut butter and banana sandwiches are good?


That is exactly how the peanut butter and banana sandwich was born and that is how many other ideas are formed.

Writing your ideas down, and organizing them in some fashion, is a good way to hit the idea jackpot for a few reasons:

  • Forgetting the idea doesn't cast it away to oblivion, because you have it written down

  • Writing it down strengthens the idea, strengthening the pattern or neurons that make up it's concept and thus slightly increasing its importance to your brain, which may then try to mix it with other things.

  • And finally, so that if you ever review your ideas and notes, you have a better chance of making connections between your ideas and discovering the next peanut butter and banana sandwich.

3. Get Some Hobbies

Ideas are never absolutely brand new. They are strings of other pre-existing ideas and concepts, that are formulated in a new way, seen in a new way or built upon.

So a good way to take advantage of this principle is to expose yourself to many different paradigms.

Give yourself new ways of looking at things, through different filters.

Steven Johnson suggests hobbies as a great way to do this.

Say you use basketball and woodworking as your two hobbies.

There are principles and ways of thinking that will come from playing basketball, competition, movement, a single goal, obstacles. And ways of thinking that would come from woodworking, ingenuity, perfectionism, cutting, sawing, removing, adding.

These two different paradigms are built in your brain the more you practice them.

These can then become unconscious filters for your thoughts, affecting how you think about things, especially while mindlessly engaging in your them.

So give yourself different experiences and paradigms through hobbies so you can build up filters that can potentially mold your ideas into beautiful statues.


To squeeze your idea juice out of your brain, take a walk.

Think of or see something interesting? Write it down in your idea book.

Create your very own idea filters by picking up hobbies.

One of Steven Johnson's biggest concepts in this book was the finding that bigger cities have more innovation per capita.

That is to say that as the size of the city increases, the inhabitants as a whole become that much more likely to come up with good ideas.

The fundamental concept in this book was that the more going on and the more entangled the net of ideas is, the more connections will be made and the better chances for a good idea.

So I think that you don't really need to live in a big city, you can just simulate it. Surrounding yourself with a multitude of different and intelligent ideas is super easy nowadays. Subscribe to a few different blogs, listen to different podcasts, read some different books!

Steven Johnson did a great job with this book I think. I really enjoyed it. It was a super interesting combination of biology, 20th century computer science, the literal embodiment of esotericism and a well-thought-out path to understanding how ideas come to us.

If you want to get it, check it out in the description.

If you liked this show, give it a like!

Thank you for watching, make sure to subscribe so you don't miss next week's video, and we'll see you next week!

Want to Read it?

Audible Free Trial (get this book for free!)

Where Good Ideas Come From (Audible Version)

Where Good Ideas Come From (Physical Copy)

(These links give me a commission -- at no extra cost to you. They just give me a little bump if you decide to use them. Thank you!)


Punching Sounds by: Mike Koenig

Reading Photo at end of video by: Marketa

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