We Get It – Networks Help Create Ideas

The fourth quadrant is Johnson’s way of categorizing ideas that came from networks of people working without a specific market-incentive to create an idea. Things like radar, liquid-filled rockets and RND were all discovered in this manner. He says there are a lot more ideas in this quadrant than in ideas born in other circumstances, like the lone inventor (dynamite, Air-conditioning, E = mc2).

This is Johnson’s thesis in a nutshell. The 20 second summary of this book would basically be someone pointing to this long list of ideas that were created by networks of people working together, and then Johnson’s voice would come in with something like: “This is what the fuck I’m talking about people.”

When you separate people and ideas, you are creating an environment that restricts the creation of new ideas. Competition – or the “market-based competition theory” – would argue that competition can breed things that are better. Johnson doesn’t say that this idea is totally full of shit, but he is critical of the fact that competition often leads to isolation. He definitely argues that a collaborative and networked environment is best.

He ends the chapter with a badass quote on this thought. Darwin used the term “tangled bank” to describe the amazing interconnectedness of an ecosystem. Johnson uses this term and signs off as follows:

“…You can create comparable environments on the scale of everyday life: in the workplaces you inhabit; in the way you consume media; in the way you augment your memory. The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wider than the sum of its parts. Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep you folders messy; embrace serendipity make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent. Build a tangled bank.”