As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” What they don’t tell you is that it also makes Jack less likely to succeed at work. In the next fifteen examples, you will see the value of play–hobbies–in addition to work, specifically scientific exploration. In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson reports how hobbies have benefited the scientific community through many generations.
“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities—a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity—but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies” (Johnson, 172).
The innovative power that comes from balancing work and play–career and hobbies–has always been present in scientific exploration. This anthology will describe how that power is still at work today.
Biotechnology as a major field within science has led to many new companies copying the Genentech blueprint: having a small company creating commercially viable products to earn profits. This movement from a purely academic scope of research to a company thriving in an industrial market has become a popular choice for those interested in the sciences, offering more career opportunities. From the 1970s on, a number of companies would emerge to follow the example set by Genentech. This would result in a major growth of the field, located in California.
California has become the true center of biotechnology in the U.S, as the birth place of the industry as well as having numerous companies making products in a multitude of fields. Because of this environment, being surrounded by other biotech companies, a sense of innovation is greatly encouraged, as competition will enable a surge of creativity. This anthology details several examples of how California has become the epicenter of biotech, ranging from peculiar facts about the history of Californian biotech to present companies developing new products within the biotech field. The hotbed of innovation exhibited by the California environment is shown through the amount of diverse companies and novel products.
Serendipity is defined as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.” (1)
This anthology provides examples of scientific serendipity. This will introduce a number of scientists, inventions, and theories that all came about because of serendipity. This theme was clear throughout the books that we read during the semester and we wanted to prove that serendipity really exists in the scientific community as well as the world around us.
(n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/serendipity
Sally Smith Hughes‘s “Genetech: The Beginnings of Biotech” is a very informative look into the world of biotechnology specifically the highs and lows of the biotech company Genetech. Ms. Hughes is a very successful writer as she has written several books about science, specifically about the biotech industry. “Genetech: The Beginnings of Biotech” is her most recent book as she has previously written “The Virus: A History of the Concept” (Heinemann, 1997) and “Making Dollars out of DNA: The First Major Patent in Biotechnology and the Commercialization of Molecular Biology, 1974-1980”. Ms. Hughes currently works at the University of California, Berkeley where she continues her work on the history of science. In each of Hughes’s books there is a strong focus on a certain area of science such as patents or viruses. However, in this case the focus is on Genetech a revolutionary biotech company. Throughout the story the audience learns what goes on to make such a profitable biotech company and the various obstacles in their way.Continue reading “Innovation Realized”→
Sally Smith Hughes writes, Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, a historical account about the rise of Genentech Inc. Hughes takes the reader from the beginnings of biotech in 1973, to Genentech’s creation by Robert A. Swanson and Herbert Boyer, to its Wall Street debut in 1980. Hughes is a science historian at the University of California, Berkeley contributing over 150 oral histories to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley; additionally Hughes also wrote The Virus: A History of the Concept. Genentech tells the story of how a multiplicity of perspectives and personalities can affect the growth of science; and how outside sources of control and regulation, by government and private sector, can help or hamper progress in commercial and university scientific research. Continue reading “Genentech: History of Biotechnology”→
“Rigid business organization and sharply delineated functions had no place at Genentech, a company in which flexibility, improvisation, and quick action were essential”(128).
Genentech’s business model and inter-company interaction are consist with innovation and a perfect level of casualness that makes the company so successful. Genentech was obviously not going to be a company forged on the conventional seriousness of the corporate world. Rather, Genentech embodies the facilitation of ideas that Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, would love. The fact of the matter is this: in the realm of science, innovation, and product-based development, it is very important for employees of whatever company to be comfortable, casual, and unconventional. This, in turn, will create an atmosphere that can spread innovation.
Chapter 5 describes “an emerging culture” in the Genentech company. Genentech was developing a culture that was unmatched by any other technology company at the time. Hughes wrote that Silicon Valley firms were equally motivated by innovation, research, and protecting intellectual property. However, these companies lacked strong ties with the academic world that biotechnology is built upon. The culture of Genentech’s company combined the financially driven aspect of product development that tech companies thrive on, with the academic collaboration that universities promote.
“Genentech’s culture was in short a hybrid of academic values brought in line with commercial objectives and practices. It was, to turn a phrase, “a recombinant culture” in way that the biotechnology industry of today continues to manifest in one way or another” -Hughes, 132
The culture was not lost on its visitors. As Hughes states, visitors to the company immediately noticed the energy and electricity of the company’s scientists. The company was noticeably informal and was lacking in respect to authority or hierarchy.
“Genentech’s culture of extremes included a strand that observers today would label socially unacceptable. But it was not Genentech’s blemishes that financiers noticed. They saw a company with an impressive line of scientific accomplishments and major corporate alliances.” – Hughes, 135
The environment of Genentech reminded me about Google’s environment from reading Johnson’ Where Good Ideas Come From. Google is notorious for having a laid back, informal work environment, where employees are encouraged to collaborate. Both Genentech and Google provide their employees with work environments that may not fit the norm, but allow their employees to be as innovative as possible. Both companies are able to produce highly marketable, successful products, while still providing their employees with the interactive environment they so desire.
“To maintain our edge . . . we’ve got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars . . . that’s what’s going to maintain our standards of scientific excellence for years to come.”- President Barack Obama
President Obama restated an idea that has kept the United States at the forefront of scientific research and discovery for decades; we must have the most rigorous peer review in the world in order to stay ahead of the world. Grant’s are given by the United States Government by going through a peer review process that grades your work, and considers its impact. There are several criteria that have to be considered in the peer review process for a lab or study, including, but not limited to: overall impact, significance, investigators, innovation, and approach.
A study’s overall impact is very important to peer reviewers because they want to know that a discovery will have a lasting impact on the research field and the world. The significance of a study is similar to overall impact, except that it focuses on overcoming a barrier or problem in the research field. Investigators, are the actual scientists who will be running the study, the peer reviewers want to know that they are accomplished members of the research field, and how the organizational structure and hierarchy of the study is laid out. Peer reviewers also need to know how innovative the study will be, will it shift the current understanding of the field? Finally, the approach of the study’s team is also important, how will it be designed, what are variables that are being controlled, do they have a alternative strategies?
Like most technological break throughs, recombinant DNA at first wasn’t completely welcomed to the science world and many people were skeptical about it’s role and benefits in real world. Although now we know about its purpose and significance of it, there are still some concerns about it. First, lets start with the “pros” of recombinant DNA. Used in plants, plant breeders and farmers use it to create stronger, more durable, plants that could survive better and give humans better results in health. Furthermore, scientists have been able to construct plant DNA to withstand harmful bug invaders and pests that usually disrupt plant growth. They also can be altered to provide humans with more amino acids, fatty acids, and essential vitamins. However, along with benefits come concerns. Lately, with the growing funding for coming from the private sector, which allows companies to expand their research and obtain patents on discovered technology, which can hamper the progress that other companies are working towards in the field of biotechnology. Even more concerning is the thought that tough plants with genes able to survive and fight off disease and viruses, could mutate and create other diseases and viruses that are able to withstand other drugs.
” I said something along the lines of, ‘This looks very promising, but for it to be used in court, we have to pass the Frye standard.’ I outlined the possible weaknesses, as I saw them; validation of the statistics, standards for matches, all the things that seemed pretty apparent to us. I thought I had given a nice talk about what would have to be done, when this woman from the Orange County crime lab stood up and said, ‘This kind of talk is dangerous. You shouldn’t be saying these kinds of things in public. Defense lawyers might find out about this and use it’ ” -Weinberg 192
I think that this attitude from forensic scientists says a lot. Firstly, I think that it shows the bias that at the time forensic scientists had towards defendants in general: they strove to prove them guilty. This statement from this woman shows that she and forensic scientists as a community were most likely to be on the side of the prosecution. This is even proven after Weinberg points out that the DNA testing was never done blind, and so forensic scientists were basically giving their own personal verdicts to the prosecution and courts.
This attitude is very alarming to me personally, because I consider myself a scientist also. It worries me to think that other scientists would inject their own opinions and biases into evidence and use science as a means to an end. For me, science and the discovery of new things should come from and be used as a way to make everyone’s lives easier and more efficient, not to meet one’s own personal agenda. It is also alarming to think that these labs and the courts were not monitoring the DNA testing, so that it would be blind. Weinberg even mentions that a scientist who studied the DNA of birds could’t even imagine doing her experiments unblinded. If birds are monitored so closely, why weren’t humans? Are they not more important and aren’t the implications more drastic? I feel as though this situation was almost a breach of ethics.
I found Alec Jeffery’s discovery of genetic fingerprinting very interesting and of course it has been very useful in solving crimes since its birth. At this point in the book, Paul has been convicted for the sexual act against Helena Greenwood, but the fact that 14% of the total population had the same matching secretion as the semen left behind on her pillowcase makes the case a little less certain. Paul’s attorney desperately tried to argue, even though his client matched, that 14% of the people in the area is a large number of possible offenders. If genetic fingerprinting were to be used, prosecutors could tell for certain if the semen left at the scene of the crime was in fact Paul’s. The same way that Colin Pitchfork was convicted for his brutal double rape and homicides, Paul could definitely revealed as the culprit. This type of DNA analysis could also be used to find Helena’s killer. Below is a link to an article that highlights an interview that Alec Jeffery participated in. Jeffery’s discovery all the way back in 1984 is discussed.
In Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, readers are able to get a glimpse into the process of creating major innovations. Johnson has already established himself as an insightful and creative author with his other books like The Ghost Map, which looks into the spread and cure of cholera in London. In each of his books, Johnson explains complicated concepts in a novel and simple way, allowing contemporary readers to understand the points he is trying to make. This book is no exception, with each chapter illuminating a different quality of the ideal idea-making process. To prove his points, Johnson uses a myriad of examples of innovation ranging from lone inventors to the exploits of coral reefs to the creation of the very first computers. Through each example in his novel, Johnson shows his idea-making concepts at work in real life. Continue reading “Where Good Ideas Come From: A Method to the Madness of Innovation?”→
Theoretical and Evolutional Networking Connections
Our physical, emotional and mentally evolving universe has many known limitations in fields of chemistry, biology, biotechnology and innovative sciences overall. These limitations are nothing but mental barriers that are bound to be overcame using the basis of innovation that our great ancestors founded many years ago. Where Good Ideas Come From written by Steven Johnson makes clear and somewhat short the long and tedious step-by-step process in which innovation progressed. In this science related nonfiction piece, Steve Johnson, a formidable writer and historian, talks about the different variations of ways in which ideas come to be, how they are/were implemented, the best ways these ideas can come to surface and how they contribute to the overall spectrum of innovative thinking. This writing contains a wealth of information relative to what everything is today and how it came to be, thus making it relevant and interesting to audiences of all sorts. Continue reading “Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From”→
He analyzed the different reactions, and came to the conclusion that blood could be broken down into four groups (now known as A, B, AB, O,”-Weinberg (51).
Today we do not think twice when we learn what our blood type is or need blood and receive some from the same blood type. This classification of blood types went on to become very important in the world of criminology because it allows prosecutors to get that much more specific in identifying a criminal. One thing that stuck me about the discovery about blood types is how long it took for the find to get the recognition it deserved. When Paul Uhlenhuth, in 1900, found out that blood could in fact be analyzed to see if it is from a human, the world of prosecutors jumped on the idea with great interest. When Karl Landsteiner discovered the different types of blood his work wasn’t properly praised until around 20 years after the initial finding in 1901. Why was this finding viewed as not as important as Uhlenhuth’s?
Reading this chapter made me think of the issue with patents discussed in class a while ago, and gives me a remembrance of the question if patents are more effective than platforms. Mendel did not receive any recognition for his work, this surely was an annoyance for him. Do you think if his work was patented and he got all the credit for his work, it would have had an effect on others implementing his work because they knew it was his. His work was ultimately a platform because even though it was his idea, others were able to feed off of it legally.
This article talks about David Butler, who spent eight wrongful months in prison after being convicted off of DNA testing. Butler faced murder charges after his DNA was allegedly found on the victim. The results showed a partial match of his DNA and was enough for the police to convict him. He had originally given the police his DNA before following a burglary in his mother’s home, so there was a record of him. People are beginning to believe the current climate of relying mainly on DNA testing has made police lazy. Had Butler not previously given DNA to be a partial match, would even have been linked to the murder? How many people could have also been a partial match and just not in the system? New innovations must be made to change the current system of relying on DNA or proven inaccurate eyewitness testimony.
One thing that struck me while I was reading this particular chapter was how many scientists and people contributed to uncovering much of the mystery of DNA. I firmly believe that without any one of these intellectuals, we would not have the knowledge on DNA that we have today. Although never given the proper credit while he was alive, Gregor Mendel set the stage for future thinkers to pursue a study on DNA. Without his extensive work with plants, would Johann Friedrich Miescher have been able to discover that chromosomes in each cell nucleus were made up of more than just protein? Each geneticist building off the work of another through the years ultimately allowed Francis Crick to head the charge in uncovering the main mysteries of DNA. DNA that could one day help rightfully charge criminals like the one that broke into Helena’s house. The challenging concept that developed into DNA was a collective creative process, that although took decades to answer, was unearthed by many intelligent minds. Referring to what we discussed in class, bouncing ideas off of each other can in fact provide a better, and more complete, answer to a question or concept.
“It was Kohne who had developed a revolutionary new method for diagnosing infectious diseases, using DNA probes instead of traditional cultures. Helena liked them, and needed little persuading to accept their offer. She was excited about the technology– she had been following the developments in DNA as they rolled through the scientific literature like a snowball on virgin snow, and she knew that it was the way the biotech industry was heading, with Gen-Probe leading the rush.” -Weinberg 21
Helena Greenwood lands this job heading up the marketing department of Gen-Probe because the co-founder of this biotech company had seen her at international markets “present papers to scientists and salesmen alike and was impressed” (Weinberg 21). In short, Helena got the job because she was so efficient at being a scientist and salesperson. In her description of Helena, Weinberg presents her as passionately interested in science, but also as wanting to improve the field of biotechnology itself, by reconciling the business and science aspects of it, and improving the efficiency of the relationship. This is what inspires her to get into the marketing side of biotechnology to begin with.
Helena’s ability and passion to bring the two aspects of the field together are very interesting to me. It reminds me of Steven Johnson’s observation that most “geniuses” were masters of many trades and had many interests and hobbies: guys like Einstein and Ben Franklin were not only scientists and statesmen but also musicians and hobbyists.
But this leads me to ask of Helena’s great success in life: was it due to her multiple interests? If Helena had never gotten into the business side of biotechnology, would she have continued to climb the ladder? Could she have continued to advance just staying in the research side of things? I think she could have continued researching and with unlimited possibilities simply due to her intellectual capacity. But I think the true genius and the fulfillment of her potential came from her passion to combine the two aspects. I think this is an interesting question to consider regardless, because there are so many “what ifs” that can be asked of great innovators and minds of the past few centuries. Were their ideas worth a lot because they could be exapted, or did the innovator exapt themselves and their skill set and passions to an ever changing world?
“By some measure, every important innovation is fundamentally a network affair” (Johnson, 221).
If monetary gains were not an issue for innovators, perhaps works of innovation could have reached further than the have. Since we lie in a physical and online network, anyone who has an idea and wants other people’s ideas would share with others who could give suggestions and put in factors that could make it better. But most of Us are worried about the profit and try to keep it for ourselves. In the conclusion of this book, Johnson talks about the four quadrants. How a product could be in am market of the individual and the network, and the Non-market for both of them. The main difference between the individual and the network is was something created within a web, the Alphabet was created by many individuals, so it would be a network non-market, because it has no value, where a market would be ball bearings. Individual comes into play when one individual was not able to use the network due to outside factors. but the market and non-market still play a factor. But to conclude all of this, even when something is individual or of a netork, it is from one amount of extreme to another, of the size of a web. just because you thought of somehing, does not mean that someone somewhere did not think of it either. we are all connected, all ideas are in a way connected, webs are simply where good ideas come from.
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) was invented in 1985 by Kary B. Mullius. This process was developed the same year that Helena Greenwood’s court case. PCR was a revolutionary discovery for the study of DNA because what it does in a nutshell, is make a ton of DNA from any time tiny bit of DNA. It basically duplicates the strands of DNA to make more and more of it so that its a substantial amount of DNA to do an analysis with. Before this, if DNA samples were taking from a crime scene, if there wasn’t a substantial amount, than only a few test would most likely be able to be done. PCR now allows for an unlimited amount of retesting because more DNA sample can be made. This process is truly amazing!
As amazing as this process is, it actually takes quite some effort. The Molecular Genetics course has a lab portion that does a lot of PCR. It is a series of heating, centrifuging, cooling, adding enzymes, etc. Heat is used to break apart the strands of DNA to than have an enzyme called DNA polymerase travel along each strand making a complimentary strand. This process continues exponentially within the tiny test tube producing a subtle sample for testing.
Testing than is done on an electrophoresis gel, that will show whether a person is a match to the DNA or not. The picture shown above is an example of a gel.
“these non-market, decentralized environments do not have immense paydays to motivate their participants. But their openness creates other, power opportunities for good ideas to flourish. All of the patterns of innovation we have observed in the previous chapters—liquid networks, slow hunches, serendipity, noise, exaptation, emergent platforms— do best in open environments where ideas flow in unregulated channels.”
To me, the fourth quadrant represents the best of humanity, selflessly and persistently working with your fellow man towards a common goal, not for financial rewards but for the simple reason of moving forward into the great unknown as one; to be better than we have been, to be smarter. to be wiser. We see everyday in news about stories of seperation and conflict over our petty differences, but its the innovations in the fourth quadrant that reflect the best qualities of humans. It is reassuring to see that over the centuries we have seen an increase in the fourth quadrant because it gives me hope that one day our children won’t have to live in a world of hate and fear, this “coming together” quality of the fourth quadrant need not just refer to technology but in every aspect of human society. One of the most sobering, yet inspiring speeches ever given, that encompasses the fourth quadrant is Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”- Carl Sagan
The invention of the Snuggie was strange in the fact that its just a blanket with arms. Who would of thought that this simple adjustment to a blanket sold like hot cakes. It was a basic design that came in different sizes and colors. Most everyone knows the struggle of being comfortable on the couch and trying to do work as well, but the fact that someone stitched arm holes into fabric made this simplistic idea be worth millions.
The idea of a free market like the one exhibited here in the United States, makes what seem to be silly innovations, be worth a ton of money. I think that in order to become a successful product it has to connect to each gender, race, age etc. Some products are geared towards one of these aspects, limiting its marketability and ultimately its success in business. Something like the Snuggie, interest anyone who enjoys relaxing on the couch watching movies. This innovation may fit in the quadrant that was made by an individual for the market.
“APL was a superb environment for inquisitive young kids, and particularly so in the Research Center. It was an environment that encouraged people to think broadly and generally about task problems, and one in which inquisitive kids felt free to follow their curiosity.” (187)
The Advanced Physics Lab is world famous for its innovation, and in its making the impossible, possible. What caught my eye in this particular passage was the fact that Johnson made sure to say that these scientists, were “inquisitive young kids”, I think the importance of these scientists being just kids is crucial to the success of the APL. Young minds ask more broad questions because they haven’t been conditioned by the older members of society to think and act a certain way, they (we) let our minds wander and wonder about the impossible because our species has proven time and time again that the impossible is most certainly possible, as long as you have the new generations asking the questions. The day we truly let our kids, and I mean kids, not young adult scientists, question everything and not chastise them for not being realistic or possible, is the day we raise the smartest and most innovative generation the world has ever seen.
“Apple’s approach, by contrast, is much messier and more chaotic at the beginning, but it avoids this chronic problem of good ideas being hollowed out as they progress through the development chain.” (171)
I found Apple’s chaotic approach to innovation very interesting because people were encouraged to think outside the box, and those ideas were embraced. However, I thought that there could be a side effect of this process, that being could the openness of Apple’s system also side track some of their employees? As in, I feel as though many of their employees could get side tracked with ideas that are simply not feasible at the time, not because their ideas impossible, but they include technology that doesn’t exist yet. Apple has been slowly but surely making their phones thinner and thinner, however, an employee who designs a paper thin phone, as genius and innovative as it is, while not be able to make that dream possible because no technology exists to make it real. Being Apple, they could invest billions into the R &D of said paper thin phone, but they still have other projects that need that money too, making this employee’s design, that may have taken him hundreds of hours, unable to be made.
After reading Johnson’s chapter about Quadrants, I decided to look into the idea of Quadrants a little bit more. I looked up “quadrants of innovation” on google, and after checking a few different links I stumbled upon a New York Times article that was written by Steven Johnson. The link is below.
In the article Johnson talks about how he “analyzed 300 of the most influential innovations in science, commerce and technology — from the discovery of vacuums to the vacuum tube to the vacuum cleaner — and put the innovators of each breakthrough into one of four quadrants”. He connects his science research to communism and capitalism. It’s actually pretty interesting. Check it out!
The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wiser than the sum of its parts. Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, invent. Build a tangled bank.” -Johnson, pg. 246
I think this is a really effective way to end the book. By offering all of these simple suggestions, Johnson goes through a quick summary of all the ideas he discussed: hunches, serendipity, errors, liquid networks, the strength of weak ties. But he’s also encouraging his readers to cultivate good ideas of their own. And maybe we won’t pioneer new platforms that spark a change in the lives of millions of people, or create an invention that changes the world. But as we’ve seen throughout the book, good ideas can come from and can be found anywhere; they’re not limited to any particular field. We can use this advice to help us come up with the topic for our next essay in our writing class, or maybe we can use it to become better problem-solvers, putting pieces together to see the big picture. Maybe we can apply this knowledge in our chemistry or biology labs, and it comes time to make a hypothesis regarding the experiment we’re about to do. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what we do with what we’ve learned from Johnson’s book, because he’s shown us a wide enough variety of innovations from all over the world and from throughout history for us to know that this knowledge can be applicable anywhere.
“Solo, amateur innovation (quadrant three) surrenders much of its lead to the rising power of networks and commerce (quadrant four).”- Johnson (p.228)
After reading Johnson’s chapter on quadrants. I was interested in finding understanding why amateur innovations would surrendered it lead to the big power of networks and commerce. Upon surfing the web I stumbled across a cool article explaining about a new innovation that will be revolutionary for trauma medicine. The invention that would lead to save many is called VetiGel.
It is a gel used as a clotting factor in animals (and in the near future humans) in extreme blood trauma situations. It can stop bleeding as fast as 12 seconds! The creator of VetiGel, Joe Landolina, created the product when he was 17. Joe is an amateur innovator interested in the pursuit for the advancement of biomedical science and technology. After further reading a dew more articles I found that one of the main reasons why Joe decided to commercialize the product was not only to set himself financially but to also for the benefit of society. By designing this product Joe also gained national and worldwide recognition and opened many doors of opportunityto continue further research.
After reading the last chapter of Johnson’s Where Good Ideas come from it became more clear to me how the process of implementing an innovation is played out. Putting this process into four quadrants I feel helps others understand the time and commitment that must go into fully implementing a hunch or idea. What this made me wonder was in order to reach the forth quadrant when talking about a hunch or innovation, the innovator must have had many reoccurring instances of failure, if these failures for a certain hunch were used in the four quadrant process for another hunch I feel it is more than likely that the process for implementing this hunch would be a lot faster and more efficient. This is relative to the ideas seen in Chapter 3 of Johnson’s book.
After reading the chapter, The Fourth Quadrant, I thought it was very interesting that Johnson displayed the sort of evolution of innovations through a four quadrant system. After reading, it made me understand the relationship between platforms and stacks and the development of innovations from one another. Essentially, over periods of time, those stacks open the doors for new innovations to occur and reach the fourth quadrant. Johnson touches upon this ideas when describing the type of environment in which innovations occur. Johnson states,
“Because innovation is subject to historical changes – many of which are themselves the result of influential innovations in the transmission of information – the four quadrants display distinct shapes at different historical periods” (p 226).
Essentially, what Johnson is saying is that to reach the fourth quadrant innovations come from the building of ideas on innovations that were already presented as the stage for further development. This clearly relates to platforms and ideas that were previously presented that allowed innovations to develop over time. This suggests that innovations reach the fourth quadrant from an environment in which ideas are constantly developing.
This idea also correlates to evolution and things I have learned in my Evolution course. Essentially, evolution is change over time, but over time new ideas or traits come about from things presented prior. This relates back to coral reefs in which Johnson talked extensively about again in this last chapter. Over an historical time period, new developments came about from observing the coral reefs.
“In Darwin’s language, the open connections of the tangled bank have been just as generative as the war of nature. Stephen Jay Gould makes this point powerfully in the allegory of his sandal collection: ‘The wedge of competition has been, ever since Darwin, the canonical argument for progress in normal times.’ he writes. ‘But I will claim that the wheel of quirky and unpredictable functional shift (the tire-to-sandals-principle) is the major source of what we call progress at all scales” -Johnson 239
I really agree here with Gould’s second point, that the tire-to-sandals-principle is “true” progress. I think that the most innovative and useful for moving human life forward are the principles that rely on what we have in excess or even whatever we have just lying around. Johnson illustrated this with the incubators which were made out of car parts in poorer countries where car parts were all over and easily accessible. Not only was this an efficient way of building new beneficial technology, but it ensured that it would be fixable and reliable when the time came.
Personally, I think that humans have a much greater potential for innovations such as these (sandals made from tires or the incubators made from car parts). I think that the former point made by Gould is the reason why these innovations are not made more often (or we are not made aware of them). I think part of our capitalist society is the motivation to get ahead, and so innovators, even from the fourth quadrant, tend to be focused on advancing this country, and not focused on benefiting poorer nations and people. This is obviously not necessarily always the case, as there are tons of inventions from and in developed countries that have and can help out poorer nations. But I think the focus is usually on making a prosperous country more prosperous, and finding more efficient ways to do this. I think with a cooperative effort from many prosperous nations and the creative minds within, by creating networks that are much more international and internationally accessible, we can greatly expand the “wheel of quirky and unpredictable functional shift [that] we call progress at all scales”.
The idea of platforms is ultimately formed off the notion that ideas can always build off one another in order to improve innovation all together. When thinking about this idea I come to realize that if this idea is such a success renovator then why do governments suggest the use of patents? Patents are basically the complete opposite of the idea of platforms. In my eyes I see less problems and controversy arising from the use of patents. Due to the uncertainty of creation that would arise from platforms I do see cons in this theory. Although it may help innovators come up with ideas in a much more smooth and speedy way it will eventually cause ownership problems.
“Platform building is, by definition, a kind of exercise in emergent behavior” (Johnson, p182).
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of platform innovations is Google. Google began as an idea for a search engine back at Stanford University. Two college students were looking for a way to bring endless amounts of information to people using an online search engine, so Google “emerged”. The Google search engine was the base foundation, or “platform” that set the ground for the large amounts of information that one can find today online. In fact Google even led to more search engines. As people saw that the innovation of Google was successful they wanted to gain some of the glory. So, they adapted the idea of Google and turned it into new search engines.
After reading Chapter 7 of Where Good Ideas Come From, I found it interesting that Johnson described coral reefs as a platform. In the introduction of this chapter, much of the focus was on Darwin’s observations of a coral reef and the ecosystem. He often noted the life forms that existed as well as the way in which they play a role in their environment. While this was known, this chapter focused on the ideas that the coral reef is the platform for many life forms that carry out different functions, making the ecosystem successful. Essentially, coral reefs were present, and intricate food webs, flow of energy, symbiotic relationships, and functions of organisms came about. The link below details the energy flow of the coral reef and the new “innovations” or “functions” that many organisms possess due to living in a reef. It is clear that coral reefs gave rise to new relationships between organisms and their environment. Reefs set the stage for the formation of food webs, energy flow, and symbiotic relationships between animals, thus making the ecosystem successful. Therefore, Johnson’s understand of a platform as a something that sets the stage for other uses or innovations was clearly conveyed through the example of coral reefs, its inhabitants, and the success as a result of formed food webs, energy webs, and biological relationships.
Towards the end of Chapter 6, Johnson discusses what Apple does differently to ensure innovation in their products. They use a “coffee house” approach, with continuous meetings between designers, engineers, and manufacturers. This differs from the traditional assembly line approach where ideas are passed from one department to the next with no real interaction. But, Apple has proven that their method is effective. So, why don’t more businesses attempt this approach at developing new products. I think the automobile industry could seriously benefit from an approach like this. They are always releasing new models and “cars of the future,” but by the time they actually make it to the market, many of the innovations are no longer a part of their product. Taking an approach similar to Apple could hurt efficiency, but innovation would greatly increase and I think the technology in cars would take a huge step forward. Once they make that leap they can get back to worrying about efficiency and mass production.
“Many of history’s great innovators managed to build a cross disciplinary coffeehouse environment within their own private work routines”
This is Nikola Tesla. He was an Serbian American scientist focused on the development of new technology for society. He was heavily involved in many different fields of science including physics, electrical and mechanical engineering. His interest in these different fields along with his futuristic ideas allowed for the creation of inventions that were beyond his time. By the late 1800’s Tesla went to pursue his ideas of wireless lighting and electricity. He also speculated the possibility of wireless communication, a technology used so often today. These hobbies and interests in these different fields proves as an example of how scientists can come up with great ideas by integrating concepts together.
“A good idea is a network. A specific constellation of neurons-thousands of them-fire in sync with each other for the first time in your brain, and an idea pops into your consciousness.” (Johnson, p.45)
I found the idea of networks to be quite interesting. We as humans explore the adjacent possible connections in our surroundings. That is how we reach new innovation. If somebody says something to us that we find interesting, we may go research it. That research may lead to another connection about that topic, and before we know it, we will have a full network of ideas that leads me to a new innovation. It is a kind of hard to believe it, but this Commonplace Book itself is a network leading to new innovations. We all post things we find interesting, and that leads others to do further research and come up with new ideas about those interesting things.
After reading the introduction of Johnson’s book, I began to question why some environments allow for better innovation. I started wondering whether or not competition strikes more innovation in environments. I immediately started to think about school, college in particularly. College students in different majors are all competing to get the best GPAs, do well on tests, and eventually graduate and find work in their field of study. However, in the process of fighting to be the best students work to out do each other and make themselves stand out. This extra effort to stand out leads to new questions, new ideas, and perhaps even new innovation. Below is a quote from Forbes Magazine that I found interesting and wanted to share.
“Human beings survived and evolved because they cooperated to compete against the elements, says Buchholz. In the working world, competition often creates cooperation, be it in team projects or in a company-wide effort to beat out the opposition” -Forbes Magazine
“After a formidable series of measurements in his Davis lab, Kleiber discovered that this scaling phenomenon stuck to an unvarying mathematical script called “negative quarter-power scaling.” If you plotted mass versus metabolism on a logarithmic grid, the result was a perfectly straight line that led from rats and pigeons all the way up to bulls and hippopotami.” Johnson, p8
Johnson goes on to describe how Kleiber’s equation to determine metabolic rates in differently sized species applies to the “metabolism” of cities. I never really thought of any city being one big organism, but in a way the thought makes sense. Cities exists as large networks of people working constantly to make the city grow and thrive. As more people come together within the confines of a city, they’re bound to form bigger and brighter ideas when so many unique minds have access to one another.
“The most creative individuals in Reuf’s survey consistently had broad social networks that extended outside their organization and involved people from diverse fields of expertise… Diverse, horizontal social networks, in Reuf’s analysis, were three times more innovative than uniform, vertical networks. In groups united by shared values and long-term familiarity, conformity and convention tended to dampen any potential creative sparks” -Johnson 166
I think that most people would agree with this quote (even though it was already proven in a scientific study). Johnson alluded to this idea earlier when he suggested that the more people collaborate, the more innovative they are. But he also suggested an example where offices tried to encourage more talking between employees by having an “open” workspace, where people weren’t separated by desk barriers and behind computer screens all day. But he said that this design did not work because people preferred privacy where they could work. So if bringing people and their diverse ideas and ways of thinking together is the best way to move forward, how do we promote it? How do we “force” people to become innovative without actually “forcing” them to?
I think so far, Google has the best example. Like Johnson said, Google gives its employees mandatory time every day to work on their own project. But I think there are ways to improve upon this idea, and I think especially for companies that rely on new ideas to stay prosperous and afloat, it is a must to encourage more innovation. I think one way to do this is definitely to give employees time to work on their own projects like Google. But I think to take it a step further, employees should have to make their projects public at all times to other employees and mandatory for them to respond to a piece of positive and negative criticism once a week. This will encourage more human interaction and connections and force the more “diverse” and “horizontal” networks that Johnson refers to.
“The history of being spectacularly right has a shadow history lurking behind it: a much longer history of being spectacularly wrong, again and again” (Johnson, 134).
Innovative ideas, most of the time, come from a long process of trial and error. From a young age we are taught to strive for success and are often reprimanded for failures. However, success should not be synonymous with the absence of failure. Plenty of very successful people had to face multiple failures before they hit success. Even Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper company for lacking imagination and good ideas.
“Innovative environments are better at helping their inhabitants explore the adjacent possible, because they expose a wide and diverse sample of spare parts”
The concept of building ideas with one another in the adjacent possible really stuck out to me. It reminded me of an experience I had last summer when I toured Google’s New York office. Google’s office structure is not like an ordinary office. The office has wide open spaces with big tables for a collaborative feel. Employees are allowed to dress casual and have daily group meeting with people in the office and use Google hangout to video chat with employees in different countries. All of the employees at Google are from different backgrounds and come together everyday to learn from each other. Free food is available at all times for each employee. There is also a fitness center and a video game area in the offices. Google takes an innovative environment to a whole new level. I hope that many companies can form innovative offices like Google.
Here is an article that I found very interesting about Google:
After reading Chapter 5 of Where Good Ideas Come From, I thought it was very interesting to talk about the topic of error. Specifically, I liked how the chapter discussed error in a positive way. Often times, the word error or mistake has a negative connotation. In the chapter; however, error was described as the path to innovation. Essentially, error and mistakes, while can be discouraging, force people to look for the right answer. In looking for that right answer and exploring other choices or options, innovations come about. Johnson states a very powerful quote when he says,
“Being wrong forces you to explore” (p137).
In essence, being wrong isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it can drive the possibility for new explorations. Being wrong means looking for the right answer – it paves the path for new things to be discovered. This is very relatable in science and in research laboratories. Researchers go into an experiment with a hypothesis and prediction; however, the outcome could be totally wrong. This forces the researchers to research further eventually allowing them to be successful in finding a new cure or new treatment. Personally, I can also relate to this because I am in the process of conducting breast cancer research. My professor and I have predictions however we do not know if they will be right and we may fail. In the midst of that failure, we will find something new in a new type of experiment. Thus, this chapter was very insightful in the fact that it turned the negative connotation of error into a positive idea.
Chapter 5 of Where Good Ideas Come From concentrates on the idea that error leads to new innovation. After reading the story about De Forest and his accidental innovation, I began to ponder how important mistakes are to innovation. I did some research about mistakes and innovation and I found this short but very insightful powerpoint online. If you get a chance check it out the link is below. It talks about the ways that mistakes lead to innovation. Perhaps our parents and teachers have been right this whole time. We do learn from our mistakes.
“but that noise makes the rest of us smarter, more innovative, precisely because we are forced to rethink our bias, to contemplate,….”(Johnson, 148)
So putting us all in a place surrounded by errors can make us more innovative. If you would have told me that error can be good, and that it can help me with ideas, I would have said that you were crazy. I never knew that error could help so much, such as with De Forest eventually ending up with the vacuums tube after assuming that it was a surge of voltage, or the fact that error lead to the realization that plants create oxygen instead of CO2 and creates our atmosphere. So many things have been invented from error, so it now baffles me how we can be scorned for making a mistake, or that fact that we throw these things away. But what also is interesting is putting people in a room and having them intentionally say inaccurate things, because sometimes that could lead to error, but also innovation.
In the lecture portion of the Synthetic Biology course I took, you learn about different genome sizes, techniques for sequencing, how to build a genome from scratch etc. One of the cool things about this class is that the lab portion of this course offers you very real research experience that international. The yeast genome has recently been fully sequenced to where every nucleic acid has been identified within it. Knowing the sequences of all sections of the genome, the yeast genome project has now become the challenge of building it from raw materials, dNTPS. Every week in lab you build upon your synthetic DNA sequence making it longer and longer to eventually have a successful synthetic sequence of the genome. As awesome as this sounds, doing this is actually very difficult. When I took this course none of the material worked and I always had blank bands on my electrophoresis gel. There were also a ton of steps involved with making synthetic DNA that many errors could occur with simple techniques. Science is always tricky and takes effort to accomplish something.
“Individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network” (pg. 60).
Being that this is an international program, multiple minds are working on this same experiment of building a synthetic genome. People can learn from other’s failures in building the genome. Learn what techniques work and which ones didn’t.
“Competition between rival firms leads to innovation in their products and services” (pg. 21)
At the end of the chapter, Johnson brings up this idea of competition fueling good ideas and new innovations. It made me immediately think of Apple verses Window products. Both company’s have evolved to be both sufficient products but for some reason more people prefer one over the other. Apple products seem to be more costly and maybe their marketing strategies are better than windows. However, both companies produce updates often to keep their products running better and also adding more features to the programs for consumers, adds business. So why is one always considered better than the other? Is it always a personal preference or statistically is one more efficient than the other, or is it just marketing skills? These types of questions came to mind when I was thinking about the competition between these two companies.
I found an article online displaying reason why Mac computers are better than a PC. 1. Superior hardware, 2. Better Battery life, 3. The interface, 4. Free updates, 5. Anti-Virus protection, 6. Updating is not a nightmare, 7. Third-party services, 8. Track pad.
Some of these features a PC also has, but may be not as high in quality according to this article. I think overall Apple has become more innovative than windows and it could be due to this distinct competition between companies that thrive Apple technicians to come up with greater ideas.
In this chapter it is mentioned several times that de Forest had failed many times while implementing one of his most critical innovations, I was wondering if it would had been more effective in a timeliness sense if other hunches and ideas were connected to his, or was it most effective for him to “fail forward.” This also ties back into the idea that every hunch takes a while to be fully implemented and even with that said not every hunch ends up being fully introduced.I get the feeling that “failing forward” and having a team behind you is what is best for implementation.
When it is mentioned that organizational inspiration is built off information networks that allow hunches to disperse and recombine, I feel like this idea can be easily contradicted, for some hunches in the past and in the future may be better off forming side by side. When hunches disperse it is likely that they will not rejoin again. Examples include the hunches that were on the way into being fully implemented in order to prevent 911. These hunches dispersed and never rejoined, the rejoining of these hunches could have resulted in a lesser consequence on that day. With every theme in this book i have come to a realization that every idea and theory can exert contradictory ideas.
Google famously instutiuted a ’20 percent time’ program for all Google engineers: for every four hours they spend working on official company projects, the engineers are required to spend one hour on their own pet project, guided entirely by their own passions and instincts.
Google’s attempt to keep it’s engineers’ minds keen is very innovative. Typically, big companies attempt to keep their engineer or their workers’ minds completely on the company projects because this seems to be the most productive and efficient use of time. However, I admire Google for trying to inspire and push their workers to explore their hunches and to expand their own knowledge.
After reading Chapter 4 of Where Good Ideas Come From, I thought the discussion on serendipities was very interesting. I liked how everything connected back to innovation and even just “happy accidents” coupled with other ideas can lead to progress. As this novel progresses, each chapter seems to build on one another. Ideas came from predictions, those predictions were connected, and those connections lead to “happy accidents” in which connections and networks thrive and lead to innovation. The last line of the chapter was very powerful when relating the idea of serendipities back to a database. Johnson states,
“By making the ideas public, and by ensuring that they remain stored in the database, these systems create an architecture for ogranizational serendipity. They give good ideas new ways to connect” (p128).
Essentially, Johnson is suggesting that good ideas come from the connections that happen to cross and recombine – they are “happy accidents.” I think this idea is very interesting because going through a lot of science classes we are alway taught that things have a definite answer and came about from a definite and specific process. With these ideas, Johnson proposes that not all mechanisms come about from a definite process but rather that process created an innovative mechanism from “happy accidents” or ideas combining by change to create a good idea. Overall, I think this idea is very interesting when relating it back to the scientific world – a world where definite answers are always desired. Essentially, things don’t need to be definite but rather can be spontaneous or accidental.
In addition, it was also interesting to see these ideas related to sexual reproduction. Essentially, we want to understand the mechanisms and answers behind it, but, in reality, it just happened from a happy accident. This is similar to where good ideas come from – happy accidents.
“No doubt some ingenious hunter-gatherer stumbled across the cleansing properties of ashes mixed with animal fat, or dreamed of building aqueducts in those long eons before the rise of cities, and we simply have no record of his epiphany”- Johnson 54
This way this quote is worded makes me wonder about the nature of innovation. Is it fair to assume that a hunter-gatherer simply “stumbled” upon the discovery of mixing ashes and animal fat? Is it possible that he was actually looking for something or experimenting? It also relates to Johnson’s other point of the connection between the concentration of people and the rise of ideas. Was the hunter-gatherer who came across revolutionary ideas simply ingenious or ahead of his time, seeing that he had not city environment to foster his creativity and he came up with the ideas on his own? If this is true, I think that it also applies to many great minds of the modern era, such as Einstein, who seemed to be in a world of his own intuition when it came to new or revolutionary ideas. Yet, I’m sure there are those who would argue that he was equally a product of his environment, upbringing, etc.
“The Meulaboh incubators were a representative sample: some studies suggest that as much as 95 percent of medical technology donated to developing countries breaks within the first five years of use”- Johnson 27
This is simply stunning to me as I had no idea that this was the case. When I hear about medical donations to developing countries I have nothing but praise and appreciation for the companies, but now I see them with a new perspective. The developing countries need a way or assistance to develop technology, especially a kind that caters to their environment, not just to be given other’s technology. The human baby incubator made from car parts was truly amazing and a revolutionary idea itself. This makes me wonder what other innovations people can come up with the cater to specific needs in developing countries that can also be renewed, developed, and improved upon easily by the people themselves using their own resources. I can imagine what a difference some kind of water purifier would be to locals and their children if they could build it themselves for minimal costs!
“Kleiber’s law proved that as life gets bigger, it slows down. But West’s model demonstrated one crucial way in which human-built cities broke from the patterns of biological life: as cities get bigger, they generate ideas at a faster clip”.- Johnson 10
Through intensive research on city’s innovation and creativity, West proved that cities grown more creative as they grow bigger and more connections are made between people. But at what point does this potential for creativity reach its max and at what point does it become counter-productive to bring more people and ideas together? Is there a point where ideas become recycled and refuse to produce more new ideas? I think this is a difficult question to answer because very heavily populated areas can many times be very poor, and so the main focus is survival and staying alive. But this can also foster innovation, when people have little to work with. Then again, many of the most famous or richest innovative cities are the most populated. So maybe an answer is that from different kinds of population concentrations comes different types of new ideas. In turn, the kind of idea being produced leads to a certain attraction for certain people, and they in turn go to that city. Still, I can imagine a city that exponentially grows so much that it becomes entirely too crowded and all connections are put on hold and come second to finding a way to live with mass amounts of people. At this point, people may simply migrate out of the city and the process will start all over again.
“It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network” – Johnson, p58
The network environment helps to bring ideas into the light and propel them into a state of success. This quote stuck out to me because it is significant in showing that the network is not the smart component in the equation, but instead the people that are connected to the network are the smart ones. By being surrounded by people who share your intellect and creativeness, innovation prospers. Johnson does a good job of exemplifying that by bouncing ideas off one another, and sharing thoughts with one another, people gain knowledge.
So instead, Prestero and his team decided to build an incubator out of parts that were already abundant in the developing world (Johnson 28).
This decision documented in chapter 1 is one that I think we as humans should look to as inspiration to improve the state of our world. With the ever growing mountains of trash and scrapyards, we should be making strides to use recycled materials along with new innovative ideas and inventions. There are a lot of products that are recycled right now, but most of them are small items such as forks, plates, cups etc. Why aren’t there strides to create bigger things such as cars and planes out of scraps. Granted, it may seem like these old materials will not last long if re-used, but that just leads to another issue that could be solved with innovation.
The long-zoom approach lets us see that openness and connectivity may, in the end, be more valuable to innovation than purely competitive mechanisms (Johnson 21).
I found this point from the introduction to be interesting because it contradicts one of the prime economic principles that suggests that a competitive market will thrive better than a non-competitive one. Although the main focus of the principle is for the firms to reach their profit-maximizing level, it also suggests that competition will increase the new ideas and innovation. I think that Johnson’s ideas of competition and innovation are more realistic than that of an economist. Innovation comes from clear thoughts and zero restraints, not the stress and pressure of having to outdo your competitor.
Near the end of Chapter 2 Johnson brings up Microsoft Building number 99 which is where their research division is and is supposed to be a building which causes creation and innovation to flourish. This made me very curious as to what a building designed with this purpose in mind. Maybe because I am not in the building but aside from looking open and flowing which was the point as said in the book I do not think I would be more creative working there. Regardless I think its cool that Microsoft has certain buildings for certain things and I included a picture of the building below.
Source of Picture found on google images http://blogs.microsoft.com/next/2011/05/03/a-tour-of-my-microsoft-workspace-steve-clayton/
A connection I found from reading chapter 1 of “Where Do Good Ideas Come From” was the statement “we take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across, and we jigger them together into one new shape” to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. For the most part, people only know Watson and Crick as the people accountable for discovering the helical structure of DNA. However, after learning about so many scientist whom provided Watson and Crick the tools to piece together the puzzle, they were truly the very last piece that took the ideas of all the previous scientist. Without scientist such as Chargraff, Rosalind Franklin, Levene, etc. Watson and Crick wouldn’t of known that A and T match together, or that DNA was a helical structure without Rosalind’s x-ray diffraction picture of DNA, or the simple fact that there is a sugar attached to the nucleic acid. Before I learned about these previous scientist and their experiments in depth, I only gave Watson and Crick credit for the discovery of the structure, but I quickly learned there was so much more put into discovering the structure than I had previously known.
“All other things being equal, a breakthrough that lets you execute two jobs that were impossible before is twice as innovative as a breakthrough that lets you do only one new thing.”(Johnson 16)
I don’t believe that innovation should be determined by the amount of tasks you are able to complete but rather by the amount of time and effort it takes to complete the task. If a new invention allows you to complete a difficult task significantly faster, it should be considered more innovative then an invention that allows you to complete multiple tasks at a slower pace.