Irrelevant or Still Relevant?

Johnson asks why many good ideas flourished in the fourth quadrant, despite the lack of economic incentive. Innovations driven by economic gain usually include an expiration date. They are designed to solve a problem or make life easier in some way, but they do not always last the test of time. The typewriter was a novel innovation until computers and keyboards took over. Typewriters now lack any real monetary value, while the discovery of cell division is still relevant.

Irrelevant or Still Relevant?

The Fourth Quadrant

“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 Fourth Quadrant

The Snuggie

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.

The Snuggie

Quadrants of Innovation

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.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/31/business/31every.html?_r=0

 

quadrants innovation
Photo by James Yang

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!

Quadrants of Innovation

Now It’s Your Turn

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.

Now It’s Your Turn

A Non Marketed Individual Invention

“Solo, amateur innovation (quadrant three) surrenders much of its lead to the rising power of networks and commerce (quadrant four).”- Johnson (p.228)

The 4 Quadrants

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.

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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.

-http://www.businessinsider.com/a-17-year-old-invented-vetigel-stops-bleeding-instantly-2015-6

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150626005098/en/Suneris-Introduces-VETIGEL%E2%84%A2-Wound-Care-Solution-Veterinarians

http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/38/27/dtg-vetigel-at-zoo-2015-07-03-bk.html

A Non Marketed Individual Invention

Gravitational Waves

Johnson notes how Carrier’s story “is the archetypal myth of modern innovation” (Johnson, 216). He was able to come up with his invention without the use of a liquid network, coffeehouse exaptations, or error.  Similarly, just today, scientists discovered a way to detect gravitational waves. This is the first time anyone has been able to track these waves. Hundreds of years ago, Albert Einstein proposed the idea that these waves exist, but as of today, this is the first time there is proof and data to back up his claims. Just like Carrier, the scientists who made this revolutionary discovery had very minimal, if nothing, to help contribute to the discovery. Both Carrier’s discovery and today’s discovery seem to be the exceptions to Johnson’s’ steps as to where good ideas come from.
Article about this discovery: http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2016/2/11/10966366/ligo-gravitational-waves-einstein

Gravitational Waves

Connected Failures

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.

Connected Failures

Giants

“It is in the nature of good ideas to stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before them, which means that by some measure,  every important innovation is fundamentally a network affair.” p.221

This was the most interesting quote to me in the conclusion because it really made me think about if we really do need to base our ideas on a great thinker before us. Does this make us not as intelligent? Are generations to come destined  to not be as intelligent as the ones who came before? I hope that we use previous knowledge to make ourselves and our generation even greater than the last with technological and medical advancements that will help us live up to our full potential.

 

Giants

Crumbling Shoulders

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_species.html

This article from noaa states that indeed, thousands of species live on coral reefs in oceans across the world. The creatures exist on coral that is thousands of years old, even older then colonization and humans in North America at all. These corals today, and all fish and other creatures that make reefs their home, are standing on the shoulders of giants. This idea of the liquid network concludes in Johnson’s final chapter. Do humans have any responsibility for maintaining the coral? Do we have any responsibility in maintaining the shoulders we stand on in our own networks? If those shoulders crumble then we too will fall with them, so yes we do have a responsibility.

Link

Restriction of Innovation

“Ideas, Jefferson argues, have an almost gravitational attraction toward the fourth quadrant. The natural state of ideas is flow and spill over and connection. It is society that keeps them in chains.” Johnson 241

Ideas in the fourth quadrants are “networked,” meaning that they evolved through collective, distributed processes, and involve a large amount of people. Johnson states that it is society that is holding the flow of non-marketed ideas in the fourth quadrant back, specifically in the form of patents. Are there inventions that could be improved upon or are there instances of exaptation that are being restricted because of patents? After reading this and forming these questions in my mind, I did some more research and found that several collegiate professors at MIT had actually published a study about this. They found that once someone patents his or her research, others tend to drop their research in the same area, thus stopping innovation.

Restriction of Innovation

Tires-To-Sandals

“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”.

Tires-To-Sandals

Suppressed Ideas

“State-run economies were fundamentally hierarchies, not networks.”

In the beginning of the book we learned that networks come to be when things work together. At the end of this chapter, we learn how ideas can become something bigger and can change the way we live. However, in economies where the government leaves no space for people to make their decisions, and so there is no space for growth and for the adjacent possible. The government chooses what can be seen and what cannot be seen. However, in a market there is competition and people can discover new things by themselves. In my opinion its better when there is a market.

Suppressed Ideas

The Idea Around Patents

“We may very well decide as a society that people simply deserve to profit from their good ideas, and so we have to introduce a little artificial scarcity to ensure those rewards” – Johnson, p242

This quote struck me because I was wondering about patents and whether or not they impede on the free flow of ideas. In this passage, Johnson sheds some light on the idea that has been in my head since we started reading this book; Should we do away with patents in order to promote more collaborative and connected environments? Johnson suggests that we do need some form of patent laws so that the inventors can be compensated and rewarded for their hard work. I agree with this because if there was no reward for a groundbreaking invention, I fear that people would stop trying to create great innovations. Maybe, someday the patent laws can become more lenient in a way that the inventor will still get the credit, but other people can use that idea, add to it and improve it, or exapt it to use in a different context. By doing so, we can combine some artificial scarcity with liquid networks that promote serendipity, exaptations and platforms.

The Idea Around Patents

Perception Creates Definition

“But if you want to wrestle with the question one link farther up the chain–how do good ideas tend to come about– you need to take on the problem from a different angle. There’s a place for counting barnacles. But sometimes you need to zoom out and take the longer view.” (Johnson, 222)

The way that Johnson describes observing the formation of ideas reminded me of the graphics concept of perception. Pictured below are the Gestalt Six Modes of Grouping. Each mode displays a different method of perceiving an image. For example, the human brain processes the first mode, proximity, as a large group of sixteen circles, instead of individual circles that just happen to be near each other. Their proximity determines how we perceive them.

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The mode that comes closest to what Johnson means is continuity. Just as Johnson encourages readers to step back from the individual works and see the system as a whole, the human brain processes the image underneath “continuity” as a cross instead of four lines intersecting. In reality, we subconsciously use Johnson’s advice every day. Perception makes all the difference.

Perception Creates Definition