Steven Johnson and Scott Berkun on innovation

Update: I’ve embedded a second video about The Myths of Innovation (thanks to a tip from Scott Berkun) and added a link to a related Q&A published on Berkun’s blog.

“Innovation”  is probably one of the most — if not the most — overused words you’ll read or hear on The Interwebs.

Despite how commonly it’s thrown around, there is still value in discussing innovation if you can avoid the silliness. Below are two people well worth listening to when they discuss this topic: Steven Johnson and Scott Berkun.

Steven Johnson and “Where Good Ideas Come From”

In late September, TED posted video of a July talk by Steven Johnson (embedded below).

Watch the video on

I’d been eagerly anticipating his book by the same name, Where Good Ideas Come From, so I watched the above TED talk, an animated summary (embedded below) and awaited the book’s release. Then I read that Johnson would be speaking at Politics and Prose in DC as part of a book tour, so I jumped at the chance to attend.

What I appreciate about Johnson’s approach is not that he claims to be selling some secret sauce, but instead reverse-engineers important innovations.

Based on my live tweets, below are notes from the event (in chronological order, edited for clarity and with some links added):

  • Johnson worked on the new book deliberately for four years. He started thinking about origin of ideas when writing Ghost Map.
  • He looked both at the places and environments that bred human and biological innovation, respectively.
  • He found seven recurring patterns in the innovations he explores, which became the chapters and helped structure the book. [Patterns/chapters: The Adjacent Possible, Liquid Networks, The Slow Hunch, Serendipity, Error, Exaptation, Platforms)
  • In all these moments of inspiration, it usually happens slower than we assume; involves borrowing and remixing ideas.
  • We have a desire to tell inspirations as moments of insight — the “eureka” moment. But often that’s not the case.
  • One man read Darwin’s commonplace book and found that theory of evolution wasn’t just a moment, but evolved over time. [read Johnson’s post, The Glass Box and The Commonplace Book, which inspired the name of my Tumblr. Fred Wilson sees his Tumblr as one too.]
  • He found that innovative individuals have many loose ties to other areas — and hobbies. “Chance favors the connected mind.”
  • Question about the role of the sub-conscious. Answer: It’s not that the dream is expressing something, but that dreams help explore possible connections.
  • Me: Audible gasps when delivered big reveal in story about how GPS was born.
  • Me: Fascinating to hear about how ideas and slow hunches led to several of ‘s books. I’m always intrigued by such inspirations.
  • When profit motive causes people to close or protect ideas, you diminish ability to connect them with other ideas.
  • Musicians explore “adjacent possible” when Brian Eno has them play other instruments before recording the album.
  • Co-working spaces can foster innovation bc they bring people together, but not too structured or too unstructured.
  • Stewart Brand wrote “How Buildings Learn” — ability to change and adapt space is important.
  • In the recent past, we tended towards specialization. We’re moving back to being more interdisciplinary — we need to.
  • He disagrees with Nicholas Carr’s assertion and says that books are important not because of focus, but because of the ability to connect with distant ideas.

Scott Berkun and “The Myths of Innovation”

Thanks to a tweet from Mark Briggs, I participated in a webcast by Scott Berkun earlier this week called The Myths of Innovation: Remixed and Remastered. The webcast — and Q&A published on Berkun’s blog — was timed to coincide with the release of the paperback/updated version of his book.

View an overview of The Myths of Innovation on YouTube

View a Carnegie Mellon lecture on the The Myths of Innovation on YouTube

I’ll be sure to link the webcast replay when it’s available (also, check out The Top 10 Innovation Myths slideshow). For now, my live tweets from the webcast are below (in chronological order, edited for clarity and with some links added):

  • “Best thing since sliced bread” phrase refers to innovation not of just that, but that PLUS auto-wrapping to keep the bread fresh.
  • Avoid using: fundamental change, transformative, revolutionary, breakthrough, innovative, game-changing, out-of-the-box.
  • When he hears those words/phrases, he challenges the speaker to explain why something is being described as such.
  • You should worry about clear communication first, not “innovation.” “Don’t use it, you don’t need it.”
  • Innovation means significant positive change. It’s an outcome, not something you do as a daily activity.
  • Facts from @berkun: most products/companies suck, good products are rare, start with being consistently good, good is hard enough.
  • Occam’s Razor principle: if you have two solutions to a problem, the simplest one is probably the best.
  • “Big ideas look weird in the present.” The solution: learn to recognize and appreciate — don’t reject — weird ideas.
  • “Innovation is often best measured in relative fashion,” he says. “For any invention, there are multiple views on the value.”
  • Views of innovation: What you think, the person who buys thinks, makers think, the market thinks, historians will think.
  • “Creativity is a kind of work” that comes from effort, experience, etc. [It’s not magic.]
  • Edison’s research lab was innovative because it created an environment for experimentation
  • “No idea in the world was achieved successfully on the first try” (via @followsprocess, see original)
  • Interesting juxtaposition: Edison’s lab shows tools and messiness vs. Apple stores make products seem like magic.
  • Things that are rare: teams that trust each other, leaders willing to take risks, people who value interesting mistakes
  • To increase goodness: make team smaller, give it more authority, increase trust & cover fire, choose adventurous people.
  • Keep an idea journal — even w/ weird ones — and come back to those later, you never know when they might be valuable.

Weigh in: What are some other valuable resources have changed your thinking or inspired you on the topic of innovation?

Poynter fellows’ e-mail thread: Response to a “social media” question

One of my fellow former fellows asked our pcf09 Google Group about social media, singling me out near the end of her message. After I wrote this response (sent 6:33 p.m. CT), I thought “sharing is caring,” so here you go!

Whoa, I kinda feel on the spot. Well, um… I’m going to cop out and defer to some smarter people/sites/articles except to say that I think some of the most important things to understand, for this group of already amazing storytellers and journalists, are the fundamentals of what’s changed/how things continue to change in news/media/journalism and everything related to engagement. Challenge your assumptions about how things have been done and should be done and always try to step back and think outside the conventional MSM wisdom.

Sorry, this kinda turned into a brain dump:

1. I’ve been compiling a heapin-o-links. Disregard the guidelines part — it’s basically links for online engagement as it relates or can relate to journalism.

2. Some interesting presentations here:

3. Extremely insightful discussion by two brilliant minds on this podcast with Jay Rosen and Dave Winer (I started from the beginning; almost all caught up. Only 19 episodes so far). [Gah! Forgot to mention “sources go direct” in the e-mail]

4. I’ve been slowly consuming Here Comes Everbody by Clay Shirky, another brilliant guy (see Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable). Not for lack of interest, just the opposite actually. My approach has been to read a section or chapter or two at a time, usually before bed. That let’s the ideas marinate and gives me more time to think on the details and take more away from it, versus speed-reading more for the big concepts.

5. Next up on my list is What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis.

6. One specific idea (see all related comments and posts) of “newsroom as a cafe:”

7. I want to start paying a different kind of attention to the tech industry, specifically hows and whys as opposed to “oooh, that’s a cool  shiny new toy.” Journalism is becoming much more like it as the two overlap more and more.

Everyone, please share any of your favorite links, read, listens, etc.!


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Updates, plus Beyond Bootcamp ethics panel video clips on Knight Foundation blog

I’ve been going almost non-stop since Beyond Bootcamp ended Saturday night, so I haven’t had much time to reflect completely or summarize my thoughts yet.

Me riding in the back of pick-up while taping the Special Olympics torch run on Jan. 13. We were driving on the McArthur Causeway over Biscayne Bay. Photo by Andrea Ballocchi
Lauren Whiddon, a photographer and me riding in the back of pick-up while shooting video of the Special Olympics torch run on Jan. 13. Here we are driving on the McArthur Causeway over Biscayne Bay. Photo by Andrea Ballocchi.

So, what have I been up to and what’s coming up?

  • Monday: GRE
  • Tuesday: shooting the Special Olympics torch run on Miami Beach and in downtown Miami, cutting footage back at UM
  • Wednesday: conference calls about CoPress (two; one by phone and one by Skype) and ONA (phone), as well as being interviewed on Skype for a non-UM journalism professor/newspaper adviser’s master’s thesis
  • Thursday: working on getting my ideas added to a new undergraduate journalism class starting in the fall; livestreaming a panel discussion after a screening of One Water (the screening and panel are part the University of Miami’s Global Business Forum)
  • Friday: Bryan Murley and I are recording a CoPress podcast with Publish2 co-founder and CEO Scott Karp (@scottkarp)

Also, an update on the videos from my Beyond Bootcamp livestreaming: the School of Communication post them soon and, hopefully, offer them as video podcasts on iTunes. I’ll be sure to blog and tweet the link when they’re online.

In the mean time, check out the videos Kristen Taylor (@kthread), online community manager at the Knight Foundation, posted:

TNTJ November: Penny for your thoughts?

(Below is my response to this month’s question on Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists: November Topic: A million to save journalism. See my original post.)

With $1 million to help journalism, I would fund a project to look for ways to financially sustain journalism efforts, building off of the New Business Models for News Summit.

I wasn’t at the conference, so I followed it online. It was a great starting point, but we need more Web people involved. And not just Web people, but innovators who have successfully made money online.

To give you a sense of the people I would invite:

Weigh in: Who else would you invite?

Sidenote: This closed-door summit is not the answer: API Hosting ‘Crisis Summit’ for Newspaper Industry.

Even more links for student journalists

One of the new adds to my Google Reader is Pat Thornton’s The Journalism Iconoclast blog. Here are some great posts.

My advice for j-students who want to make a difference (and get a job)

Build a digital résumé and make yourself stand out

Summer reading list

Give your bloggers the tools to succeed

From me (shameless, I know):
Top Ten List of Tips for Journalism Students – The Linchpen

Random business-related link
MediaShift . Digging Deeper::In Digital Age, Journalism Students Need Business, Entrepreneurial Skills | PBS