I’ve “read” (listened three times on audio book) Johnson’s book and found it educational, entertaining and inspirational. He compares patterns of innovation across nature, cities, and the World Wide Web. Johnson uses an interdisciplinary lens to compare the characteristics that seem to nurture innovation versus ones that stifle it.
Johnson uses fascinating short stories to illustrate his ideas. In one story, we hear how Stephane Tarnier, a French obstetrician, came up with his idea of incubators for newborns in the late 1870s. As a physician to poor women in Paris, he witnessed the high rate of infant mortality. He knew temperature regulation was critical to keeping underweight babies alive. While strolling through the Paris Zoo, he came upon chicks being heated by an incubator. Something clicked in his head and he had the zookeeper build a similar device for the babies. While other warming devices were tried before, Tarnier did something more than come up with a new contraption. He knew the French medical establishment revered statistics. So as soon as the incubators were introduced, the obstetrician conducted a statistical study of 500 newborns. The incubators almost halved infant mortality in underweight newborns. Within a few years, incubators were required in Paris hospitals and in the coming decades, were used widely in many countries. Stories like these made the book come alive for me.
After listening to the audio book, I broke down and bought the book. I found the appendix enjoyable to look through. It was an interesting chronology of innovation from 1400 to 2000. I believe anyone who reads Johnson’s book will find useful suggestions for nurturing innovation in their own lives. http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com