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Doug French on Steven Johnson: Connect Ideas, Don’t Protect Them

Really wonderful, insightful review by Mises Institute President Doug French of Steven Johnson‘s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.

Connect Ideas, Don’t Protect Them

Mises Daily: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 by

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

“We are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them.”

Steven Johnson

Every day, virtually every minute, someone’s good idea is making your life better. You’re staring at one right now and later you will likely have a miniature version in your hand. Except, someone decided along the way that it could be part of a telephone, which of course used to be plugged into the wall, but was eventually freed to be carried about.

Remember the phone Gordo Gecko called Bud Fox on, while walking on the beach at sunrise, telling Bud he would be rich, in the movie Wall Street back in 1987? As cutting edge as it was at the time, movie audiences hooted in laughter last year when in the opening scene of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Gecko collects a few personal belongings upon leaving jail, among them, that phone: a plastic brick with an antenna no less. You couldn’t make a butt call with one of those, for sure.

Now of course, your phone fits in your palm, shoots pictures, and does most of the things your PC does. What you use everyday started out as good ideas. Good ideas are built upon by better ideas. And the results are not just felt in the abstract but become very real to millions.

“Thoughts and ideas are not phantoms,” Ludwig von Mises wrote in Theory and History. “They are real things. Although intangible and immaterial, they are factors in bringing about changes in the realm of tangible and material things.”

So where do these ideas come from, and how can we come up with more of them? What is the best environment for breeding ideas? That’s what Steven Johnson looks to find out in his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.

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