Watch Steven Johnson’s “Where good ideas come from” talk at TED
People often credit their ideas to individual “Eureka!” moments. But Steven Johnson shows how history tells a different story. His fascinating tour takes us from the “liquid networks” of London’s coffee houses to Charles Darwin’s long, slow hunch to today’s high-velocity web.
A dynamic writer and speaker, Steven Johnson crafts captivating theories that draw on a dizzying array of disciplines, without ever leaving his audience behind. Author Kurt Anderson described Johnson’s book Emergence as “thoughtful and lucid and charming and staggeringly smart.” The same could be said for Johnson himself. His big-brained, multi-disciplinary theories make him one of his generation’s more intriguing thinkers. His books take the reader on a journey — following the twists and turns his own mind makes as he connects seemingly disparate ideas: ants and cities, interface design and Victorian novels.
Johnson’s breakout 2005 title, Everything Bad Is Good for You, took the provocative stance that our fear and loathing of popular culture is misplaced; video games and TV shows, he argues, are actually making us smarter. His appearances on The Daily Show and Charlie Rose cemented his reputation as a cogent thinker who could also pull more than his share of laughs. His most recent work, The Ghost Map, goes in another direction entirely: It tells the story of a cholera outbreak in 1854 London, from the perspective of the city residents, the doctors chasing the disease, and the pathogen itself. The book shows how the epidemic brought about profound changes in science, cities and modern society. His upcoming work, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, tells the fascinating stories of great ideas and great thinkers across disciplines.
No mere chronicler of technology, Johnson is himself a longtime innovator in the web world: He was founder and Editor in Chief of FEED, one of the earliest and most interesting online magazines. He cofounded outside.in, an intriguing website that maps online conversations to real-world neighborhoods.