ideas and noise

Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation is a good read.

I spend a lot of time with students talking about the number of ideas being more important than the quality[1] . I like how Johnson also discusses the ways in which we can find ways to allow ideas to be contaminated by environments that afford mistakes, mess, noise, cross-fertilization:

Her research suggests a paradoxical truth about innovation: good ideas are more likely to emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error. You would think that innovation would be more strongly correlated with the values of accuracy, clarity, and focus. A good idea has to be correct on some basic level, and we value good ideas because they tend to have a high signal-to-noise ratio. But that doesn’t mean you want to cultivate those ideas in noise-free environments, because noise-free environments end up being too sterile and predictable in their output. The best innovation labs are always a little contaminated.

– Johnson, Steven. 2010. Where Good Ideas Come From. London: Penguin Books, p.142


  1. The standing joke is that “quantity of ideas is more important than quality” is one of only two things I teach. The other is to do regular practice.  ↩
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s