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.↩︎

Up next learning journey I was clearing out some old notes over the holidays and happened across this learning journey written back in Autumn 2009. I had a teacher in attention Randall Szott’s Lebenskünstler is one of my favourite blogs. The range of ideas, links, and provocations is broad, but at the heart of the blog is
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