In his book Where Good Ideas Come From
, author and researcher Steven Johnson writes that we should think of a good idea as a network of thoughts and influences – instead of a single thing, it’s “more like a swarm.”
Johnson argues that certain environments are better at producing good ideas, and uses a metaphor involving the 3 states of matter – gas, solid, and liquid – to make his point.
If you think of ideas as molecules, in a gas chaos reigns – new configurations are possible, but because of the volatile environment they are disrupted and disappear shortly after they are created. In a solid, the opposite happens: patterns are stable, but they are also rigid and resist change.
A liquid network, however, serves as a happy medium and creates a more successful ideation environment: “New configurations can emerge through random connections formed between molecules, but the system isn’t so unstable that it instantly destroys new creations.”
For Johnson, from the perspective of innovation, a city and the World Wide Web share one key characteristic: “both environments are dense, liquid networks where information easily flows along multiple unpredictable paths.”