in the book where good ideas come stephen johnson is interested in discovering what kind of environment enables innovation to thrive. so for example he writes about research that shows that a city of 5 million is 3 times as creative as a town of a hundred thousand because of the natural way it's possible to collide with other people and ideas. it made me glad i live in london! by way of a summary statement jonson says this
We are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them.
ideas flow best in unregulated channels in open environments. this is instinctive to people in the new networked culture but much harder for organisations to wrap their heads round perhaps especially at times of financial pressure when to give and share may seem counter intuitive. in a fascinating piece of research johnson plots inventions in blocks of two hundred years along the axis of market/non-market and individual/network. it completely shatters the image of the lone inventor. the last two hundred years have seen by far the most innovation in the fourth quadrant - non market networked.
he also talks about what he calls exaptation - borrowing an idea from one area and applying it to another. so for example the gutenburg printing press would possibly not have been invented if gutenberg wasn't interested in winemaking. his genius was bricolage from a number of different areas to create the printing press including ideas from the wine press. he also cites a survey of 766 entrpreneurs by ruef which highlights that the most creative individuals had broad social networks that were outside both their own organisations and their own fields of expertise. diverse horizontal networks were three tims more innovative than vertical networks. and groups that are familiar and long term tend to dampen innovation.
i have blogged at length before about clay shirky's book here comes everybody - 1 2 3 4 which looks at network theory and the importance of connectors who focus outside of their small world to increase energy in networks which demonstrates in a different way the same point. one of the creative tips in a whack on the side of the head is to look outside your own area. margaret wheatley's magnificent book leadership and the new science suggests that a very different mindset is required in leaders who operate in this new environment of connectedness.
some organisations have famously sought to encourage this in their staff. so google for example encouraged staff to spend 20% of time following up connections, exploring, nurturing hunches with great effect, enabling serendipitous moments.
it goes without saying that the the internet has opened up connectivity in extraordinary ways. those people who moan about it and see it as a waste of time are somewhat missing the point. that's not to say that all internet use will lead to innovation. it's equally possible to live in a bubble with familiar connections and relationships and web sites that can be very dull and stagnant. instead explore tangents, follow hunches, get curious, connect with new people outside your area of interest and so on.
so what? connect and nurture connections beyond your own area. meet people, drink coffee, exploring hunches, operate out of a posture that seeks to open source and share ideas rather than batton down the hatches.
in terms of newness in the church which is of particular interest to me, this is a hard reflex to develop. theological positions are often entrenched and defended. people go to their tribe's festival, read their tribe's books, do their tribe's leadership training, meet their tribe in coffee houses and so on. it's easy to end up in a loop that is quite small, self referential and ultimately uncreative because of fear. this is equally true of progressive as of conservative as of emerging as of orthodox as of liberal as of evangelical as of catholic etc. by contrast, the body of christ is an extraordinary network of connections that opens up all sorts of amazing possibilities with a different set of instincts out of which much newness could and i hope will come.