Where Good Ideas Come From

by John Soares on October 18, 2010

I’m very interested in creativity — what it is, how it works, and how to use it in my life and my business.

Steven Johnson has just released his provocative new book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. He thinks good ideas are the product of thinking long-term about something, not a brilliant flash of insight, and that good ideas are the synthesis of multiple hunches that collide: your own with your own, and your own with those of other people.

Watch This Very Cool Video

Johnson also points out the importance of our environment:  how we borrow and react to others’ ideas, and how we connect with on another. For example, he discusses the importance of coffee houses and salons in the development of the Enlightenment in eighteenth-century France, and he singles out the Internet and how the current high degree of digital interaction allows the free flowing exchange and improvement of ideas.

Your Take

How do you get your best ideas? Do they come in an instant or slowly over time? How important have interactions with others been in the development of your ideas?

Make More Money for Less Work Freelance writers who specialize make much more money than those who don't. My short and focused course Find Your Freelance Writing Niches: Make More Money for Less Work guides you through all the key steps you need to take to discover the specialties that will take your freelance writing income to a much higher level. Click here for all the details.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve@Lifestyle Design October 18, 2010 at 9:57 AM

Pretty interesting video. – I wish I could draw that well on a whiteboard-lol

He seems to have some great ideas on the evolution and the ideas where creativity comes from. I totally agree the really good ideas do seem to be a combination of hunches into the really grand ideas.

Thanks John, Have a great day!

Steve@Lifestyle Design recently posted…The Delicate Balance of Outsourcing a Project


2 John Soares October 18, 2010 at 12:10 PM

Yeah, he’s great with that white board — a very compelling illustration.

Most of my good ideas did spring fully formed from my brain. They start with a seed of an idea that grows and changes over time as I get more information, think some more — and interact with others.
John Soares recently posted…ProductiveWriterscom — Subscribe Now to My New Flagship Site


3 Eric Soares October 18, 2010 at 11:43 AM

I like Steven Johnson’s ideas about innovation (and the video, especially). I have a “hunch” that his book will sell.

John, knowing you, I think you were drawn to the coffeehouses-inspired-the-Enlightenment idea, because you like coffeehouses! I haven’t yet read Johnson’s book, but I would bet he centers on the connectivity and interaction that can occur when creative, productive people get together and share ideas over joe (or absinthe). So, it’s important to meet like-minded people and engage in intelligent, free-flowing conversation in a relaxed yet stimulating environment. That’s where hunches meet hunches and combine into smoothies of innovation….

Okay, it’s break time. Gotta go to the coffeehouse. See ya there–and we’ll talk. I have some ideas I’d like to share with you.


4 John Soares October 18, 2010 at 12:07 PM

Eric, you’re absolutely right. I do get some of my best ideas in coffee houses, and I’ve also had many productive discussions over a stimulating cup of the brown brew.

Looking forward to our next coffee session!
John Soares recently posted…When You Should Do a Half-Assed Job


5 Stephanie Hoffman October 18, 2010 at 3:07 PM

When I have a creative block I think back to what someone once told me, “Children start school as question marks and leave as periods.”

I wanna be a Question Mark!!!!! I mean ????????


6 Dia October 18, 2010 at 8:39 PM

Hi John,

I believe good ideas come slowly over time. I learned this skill from my old boss who used to say that he gets paid for his thinking. Thanks for sharing.
Dia recently posted…How to forgive someone


7 John Soares October 19, 2010 at 5:46 AM

Dia, thanks for sharing the “gets paid for thinking” concept you got from your boss. I think that’s a big difference between people who get ahead in their businesses or careers and those who don’t. Successful people think = develop ideas, and then act on them, whereas unsuccessful people don’t think/develop ideas, or if they do, they don’t act on them.
John Soares recently posted…Freelancers Needed to Write Introduction to Business Assessment Questions


8 Michele Welch October 20, 2010 at 8:24 AM

Great question John! And awesome video!

I think it comes over a course of time. It may appear as an eureka moment but in actuality it’s usually a problem I been trying to solve for some time that I think was pushed in to my subconscious and then eventually manifested itself into a conscious solution.

Don’t I sound all intellectual …lol

But I do agree with the video. I’ve bounced ideas with others in brainstorming groups that eventually shaped itself to one great idea. Two minds are better than one. =)

Thanks for sharing…talk soon.
Michele Welch recently posted…Paperli Debate- Awesome But Proceed With Caution!


9 John Soares October 20, 2010 at 1:18 PM

Michele, I’ve had a few Eureka! moments, but most of my best ideas have gestated a long time and changed in the process, and they’ve been shaped by others, either through personal conversations or e-mails, or at times by reading a blog post, magazine article, or book.
John Soares recently posted…When You Should Do a Half-Assed Job


10 Matthew Needham October 21, 2010 at 2:07 PM


This is a great video! like Steve I too wish I could draw that well (and that quickly!!!)

Interesting about coffee shops being such a developer of ideas. In fact Starbucks refer to themselves as 3 rd space – not work and not home. Normally whenever I go into a Starbucks it’s full of people with laptops. So maybe there’s some truth in that.

Matthew Needham recently posted…Business Plans Made Simple


11 John Soares October 21, 2010 at 2:56 PM

Matthew, I’ve had some very insightful conversations at Starbucks, both with people I knew and people I serendipitously met.

I’ve also learned a lot just by eavesdropping on conversations at coffee shops — some very interesting people come there to talk business and ideas.
John Soares recently posted…When You Should Do a Half-Assed Job


12 Brandon Connell October 24, 2010 at 11:37 PM

Most of my ideas come when I am in the shower. Now hush with the jokes… 😉
Brandon Connell recently posted…How To Give Up On Your Dreams


13 Tom McGuire October 25, 2010 at 12:44 PM


I’m impressed with your new site! Way to go! Nice job! Let’s hope it keeps inspiring us all to be creative and innovative, unafraid to take risks, and a continuing forum for sharing ideas.

I agree that good planning is the underpinning of creative outcomes and success – the ol’ “fail to plan; plan to fail” platitude. At my work, I must be in constant long-term strategic planning mode (I am a program director for UC Berkeley Extension), but in my private life I tend to falter. I have plenty of great ideas, but zero execution of them, it seems. I’m always finding a way to shoot down my ideas or avoid putting in the real work and effort needed to shepherd an idea or concept to fruition. I’ve often said if I ran my life like I run my job, I’d be a millionaire. So, what’s holding me back, I wonder. (Uh, the classic under-achiever sydrome?)

Also, as a counter to the long-term tediousness of planning, has anyone read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink?
Tom McGuire recently posted…PT REYES- SINBAD CREEK &amp STEEP RAVINE- Three Fun-Filled Days Hiking- Biking- Birding- and Whale Watching in Classic California Style


14 John Soares October 25, 2010 at 5:32 PM

Tom, thanks for the kudos about the new site design.

Regarding your ideas, I think if you were truly interested in pursuing your best ones, you’d do it. Perhaps you’re subconsciously weighing the pros and cons of pursuing them and deciding it’s best to continue doing what you’re doing. You do go on some kick-ass hikes!
John Soares recently posted…When You Should Do a Half-Assed Job


15 Christopher Roberts November 8, 2010 at 9:45 AM

Very good video – bit complicated!

I often get ideas come from the environment, and just everyday life. Sometimes when looking for a blog article topic, things I encounter, just seem to be great ideas which would fit as a good article idea, so I write about them.

Lying in bed is when so many ideas of mine come to me, the problem is I usually forget them by the next morning!
Christopher Roberts recently posted…New Flash Bar – 17th October 2010


16 HP van Duuren May 28, 2012 at 4:13 AM

Thanks, that’s indeed a great video John,

It’s interesting to read (and see) about the Importance of Environment. That also might explain why my post titled: ‘Writer’s Workspaces that Inspire’ has been (and still is) in the Most Poplular List on my Blog.

I do think that my Best Ideas come from when I am Relaxed and than usyually – seemingly from out of nowhere – get Sudden Flashes of Insight. (btw. also wrote about the Importance of Relaxing & Laziness – with what some Historical Figures have said about that – on my Travel Blog)

Also connecting with others – especially when they are different than myself – can also frequently give me new Ideas.
HP van Duuren recently posted…What Do You Think About My Book Review?


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: