Steven Johnson is the leading light of today's interdisciplinary, collaborative, open-minded approach to innovation. His writings have influenced everything from cutting-edge ideas in urban planning to the battle against 21st-century terrorism. Steven was chosen by Prospect magazine as one of the
Top Ten Brains of the Digital Future. He unites a deep understanding of scientific progress with a sharp sensitivity to contemporary online trends. Together, those traits give him an unmatched insight into how ideas emerge and spread and how they affect the world today.
Steven's new book, Future Perfect, makes the case that our world is getting better — much better — almost under our noses. Because bad news gets so much press, we don't see the extraordinary changes wrought by slow, gradual improvements; as Steven says, we hear about the planes that crash, not the ones that don't, even though you're more likely to become President of the U.S.A. than to be in a plane crash today. According to Steven, the greatest quiet miracle of our time is the rise of a new movement, neither conservative nor liberal, of individuals coming together to make the world a better place: the peer progressives.
Who are the peer progressives? They're participants in open, bottom-up, collaborative networks. They're the volunteers who created Wikipedia, the world's most comprehensive body of knowledge. They're the citizens of Brazil's Porto Alegre who come together to divide the city budget according to what each neighborhood needs. They're the New Yorkers who call 311 to build an urban database of alerts, and they're the fans who band together to support their favorite artists through Kickstarter. On the web and on the ground, the last decade has seen an explosion of these bottom-up networks. They offer an alternative to the 20th-century binaries that no longer reflect 21st-century complexities: they're neither private-sector- nor government-owned, neither left-wing nor right-wing. By the end of Steven's book, you'll be convinced that this new perspective is the path to progress in the networked age.
If you're interested in progress and innovation, Steven has a rich catalogue to draw from. Where Good Ideas Come From, The Innovator's Cookbook, The Ghost Map, and The Invention of Air explain what systems and states of mind encourage creativity. Emergence lays the groundwork for Future Perfect by exploring bottom-up intelligence in everything from ant colonies to internet forums. His other books include Everything Bad is Good For You, which argued that the increasing complexity of modern media is training us to think in more complex ways.
A practitioner as well as a theoretician, Steven has co-created three influential sites: the pioneering online magazine FEED, the Webby-Award-winning community site,
Plastic.com, and the hyperlocal media site
outside.in, recently acquired by AOL.
He is a contributing editor to Wired magazine and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and many other periodicals. He's appeared on many high-profile television programs, including The Charlie Rose Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Steven blogs at
The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
Combining the deft social analysis of Where Good Ideas Come From with the optimistic arguments of Everything Bad Is Good For You, New York Times bestselling author Steven Johnson’s Future Perfect makes the case that a new model of political change is on the rise, transforming everything from local governments to classrooms, from protest movements to health care. Johnson paints a compelling portrait of this new political worldview — influenced by the success and interconnectedness of the Internet, but not dependent on high-tech solutions — that breaks with the conventional categories of liberal or conservative thinking.
With his acclaimed gift for multi-disciplinary storytelling and big ideas, Johnson explores this new vision of progress through a series of fascinating narratives: from the “miracle on the Hudson” to the planning of the French railway system; from the battle against malnutrition in Vietnam to a mysterious outbreak of strange smells in downtown Manhattan; from underground music video artists to the invention of the Internet itself.
At a time when the conventional wisdom holds that the political system is hopelessly gridlocked with old ideas, Future Perfect makes the timely and inspiring case that progress is still possible, and that new solutions are on the rise. This is a hopeful, affirmative outlook for the future, from one of the most brilliant and inspiring visionaries of contemporary culture.
Riverhead Hardcover (September 18, 2012)
Where Good Ideas Come From
The Natural History of Innovation
One of our most innovative, popular thinkers takes on-in exhilarating style-one of our key questions: Where do good ideas come from?
With Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson pairs the insight of his bestselling Everything Bad Is Good for You and the dazzling erudition of The Ghost Map and The Invention of Air to address an urgent and universal question: What sparks the flash of brilliance? How does groundbreaking innovation happen? Answering in his infectious, culturally omnivorous style, using his fluency in fields from neurobiology to popular culture, Johnson provides the complete, exciting, and encouraging story of how we generate the ideas that push our careers, our lives, our society, and our culture forward.
Beginning with Charles Darwin's first encounter with the teeming ecosystem of the coral reef and drawing connections to the intellectual hyperproductivity of modern megacities and to the instant success of YouTube, Johnson shows us that the question we need to ask is, What kind of environment fosters the development of good ideas? His answers are never less than revelatory, convincing, and inspiring as Johnson identifies the seven key principles to the genesis of such ideas, and traces them across time and disciplines.
Most exhilarating is Johnson's conclusion that with today's tools and environment, radical innovation is extraordinarily accessible to those who know how to cultivate it. Where Good Ideas Come From is essential reading for anyone who wants to know how to come up with tomorrow's great ideas.
Riverhead Hardcover (October 5, 2010)
Book Review – Los Angeles Times
Where Good Ideas Come From – The Independent
The Ecology of Thought — The Chronicle of Higher Education
The relative value of innovation — The New Atlantis
Graham Greene and the search for that 'Eureka' moment — The Guardian
Multidisciplinary hymn to diversity, openness and creativity — boingboing
The Skimmer — TIME
Jack Covert Selects — 800 CEO Read
An inventive take on innovation — Financial Times
Well, what a good idea! — The Economist
Where Good Ideas Come From — The Oregonian
Why great ideas arise where they do — The Seattle Times
People and Places That Innovate — The New York Times
Publishers Weekly Review
Johnson — writer, Web guru, and bestselling author of Everything Bad Is Good for You — delivers a sweeping look at innovation spanning nearly the whole of human history. What sparks our great ideas? Johnson breaks down the cultural, biological, and environmental fuel into seven broad "patterns," each packed with diverse, at times almost disjointed anecdotes that Johnson synthesizes into a recipe for success. A section on "slow hunches" captivates, taking readers from the FBI's work on 9/11 to Google's development of Google News. A section on error takes us through a litany of accidental innovations, including the one that eventually led to the invention of the computer. "Being right keeps you in place," Johnson reminds us. "[B]eing wrong forces us to explore." It's eye-opening stuff — although it does require an investment from the reader. But as fans of the author's previous work know, an investment in Johnson pays off, and those who stick with the author as he meanders through an occasional intellectual digression will come away enlightened and entertained, and with something perhaps even more useful — how to recognize the conditions that could spark their own creativity and innovation. Another mind-opening work from the author of Mind Wide Open.
Essential reading-and progressive thinking-on the subject of innovation, from the national bestselling author.
Steven Johnson, an acknowledged bestselling leader on the subject of innovation, gathers-for a foundational text on the subject of innovation-essays, interviews, and cutting-edge insights by such exciting field leaders as Peter Drucker, Richard Florida, Eric Von Hippel, Dean Keith Simonton, Arthur Koestler, John Seely Brown, and Marshall Berman. Johnson also provides new material from Marisa Mayer of Google, Twitter's Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey, and Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's former Chief Software Architect. With additional commentary by Johnson himself, this book reveals the innovation found in a wide range of fields, including science, technology, energy, transportation, education, art, and sociology, making it vital, fresh, and fascinating reading for our time, and for the future.
Bestselling author Steven Johnson recounts — in dazzling, multidisciplinary fashion — the story of the brilliant man who embodied the relationship between science, religion, and politics for America’s Founding Fathers.
The Invention of Air is a book of world-changing ideas wrapped around a compelling narrative, a story of genius and violence and friendship in the midst of sweeping historical change that provokes us to recast our understanding of the Founding Fathers.
It is the story of Joseph Priestley — scientist and theologian, protégé of Benjamin Franklin, friend of Thomas Jefferson — an eighteenth-century radical thinker who played pivotal roles in the invention of ecosystem science, the discovery of oxygen, the founding of the Unitarian Church, and the intellectual development of the United States. And it is a story that only Steven Johnson, acclaimed juggler of disciplines and provocative ideas, can do justice to.
In the 1780s, Priestley had established himself in his native England as a brilliant scientist, a prominent minister, and an outspoken advocate of the American Revolution, who had sustained long correspondences with Franklin, Jefferson, and John Adams. Ultimately, his radicalism made his life politically uncomfortable, and he fled to the nascent United States. Here, he was able to build conceptual bridges linking the scientific, political, and religious impulses that governed his life. And through his close relationships with the Founding Fathers — Jefferson credited Priestley as the man who prevented him from abandoning Christianity — he exerted profound if little-known influence on the shape and course of our history.
As in his last bestselling work, The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson here uses a dramatic historical story to explore themes that have long engaged him: innovation and the way new ideas emerge and spread, and the environments that foster these breakthroughs. And as he did in Everything Bad Is Good for You, Johnson upsets some fundamental assumptions about the world we live in — namely, what it means when we invoke the Founding Fathers — and replaces them with a clear-eyed, eloquent assessment of where we stand today.
Riverhead Hardcover (December 26, 2008)
Ppbk Riverhead Trade; Reprint edition (September 29, 2009)
The Ghost Map
The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
The Ghost Map was a runner-up for the National Academies of Science award for best science book of 2007.
A thrilling historical account of the worst cholera outbreak in Victorian London-and a brilliant exploration of how Dr. John Snow's solution revolutionized the way we think about disease, cities, science, and the modern world.
From the dynamic thinker routinely compared to Malcolm Gladwell, E. O. Wilson, and James Gleick, The Ghost Map is a riveting page-turner with a real-life historical hero that brilliantly illuminates the intertwined histories of the spread of viruses, rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry. These are topics that have long obsessed Steven Johnson, and The Ghost Map is a true triumph of the kind of multidisciplinary thinking for which he's become famous-a book that, like the work of Jared Diamond, presents both vivid history and a powerful and provocative explanation of what it means for the world we live in.
The Ghost Map takes place in the summer of 1854. A devastating cholera outbreak seizes London just as it is emerging as a modern city: more than 2 million people packed into a ten-mile circumference, a hub of travel and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated. Dr. John Snow — whose ideas about contagion had been dismissed by the scientific community — is spurred to intense action when the people in his neighborhood begin dying. With enthralling suspense, Johnson chronicles Snow's day-by-day efforts, as he risks his own life to prove how the epidemic is being spread.
When he creates the map that traces the pattern of outbreak back to its source, Dr. Snow didn't just solve the most pressing medical riddle of his time. He ultimately established a precedent for the way modern city-dwellers, city planners, physicians, and public officials think about the spread of disease and the development of the modern urban environment.
The Ghost Map is an endlessly compelling and utterly gripping account of that London summer of 1854, from the microbial level to the macrourban-theory level — including, most importantly, the human level.
Riverhead Hardcover; 1 edition (October 19, 2006)
Everything Bad Is Good for You
How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter
From the author of the New York Times bestseller Mind Wide Open comes a groundbreaking assessment of popular culture as it's never been considered before: through the lens of intelligence.
The $10 billion video gaming industry is now the second-largest segment of the entertainment industry in the United States, outstripping film and far surpassing books. Reality television shows featuring silicone-stuffed CEO wannabes and bug-eating adrenaline junkies dominate the ratings. But prominent social and cultural critic Steven Johnson argues that our popular culture has never been smarter.
Drawing from fields as diverse as neuroscience, economics, and literary theory, Johnson argues that the junk culture we're so eager to dismiss is in fact making us more intelligent. A video game will never be a book, Johnson acknowledges, nor should it aspire to be-and, in fact, video games, from Tetris to The Sims to Grand Theft Auto, have been shown to raise IQ scores and develop cognitive abilities that can't be learned from books. Likewise, successful television, when examined closely and taken seriously, reveals surprising narrative sophistication and intellectual demands.
Startling, provocative, and endlessly engaging, Everything Bad Is Good for You is a hopeful and spirited account of contemporary culture. Elegantly and convincingly, Johnson demonstrates that our culture is not declining but changing-in exciting and stimulating ways we'd do well to understand. You will never regard the glow of the video game or television screen the same way again.
Riverhead Hardcover; 1 edition (May 5, 2005)
Mind Wide Open
Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday
Brilliantly exploring today's cutting-edge brain research, Mind Wide Open is an unprecedented journey into the essence of human personality, allowing readers to understand themselves and the people in their lives as never before.
Using a mix of experiential reportage, personal storytelling, and fresh scientific discovery, Steven Johnson describes how the brain works — its chemicals, structures, and subroutines — and how these systems connect to the day-to-day realities of individual lives. For a hundred years, he says, many of us have assumed that the most powerful route to self-knowledge took the form of lying on a couch, talking about our childhoods. The possibility entertained in this book is that you can follow another path, in which learning about the brain's mechanics can widen one's self-awareness as powerfully as any therapy or meditation or drug.
In Mind Wide Open, Johnson embarks on this path as his own test subject, participating in a battery of attention tests, learning to control video games by altering his brain waves, scanning his own brain with a $2 million fMRI machine, all in search of a modern answer to the oldest of questions: who am I?
Along the way, Johnson explores how we "read" other people, how the brain processes frightening events (and how we might rid ourselves of the scars those memories leave), what the neurochemistry is behind love and sex, what it means that our brains are teeming with powerful chemicals closely related to recreational drugs, why music moves us to tears, and where our breakthrough ideas come from Johnson's clear, engaging explanation of the physical functions of the brain reveals not only the broad strokes of our aptitudes and fears, our skills and weaknesses and desires, but also the momentary brain phenomena that a whole human life comprises. Why, when hearing a tale of woe, do we sometimes smile inappropriately, even if we don't want to? Why are some of us so bad at remembering phone numbers but brilliant at recognizing faces? Why does depression make us feel stupid?
To read Mind Wide Open is to rethink family histories, individual fates, and the very nature of the self, and to see that brain science is now personally transformative — a valuable tool for better relationships and better living.
Scribner; 1 edition (January 27, 2004)
The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
A New York Times Notable Bbook
A Voice Literary Supplement Top 25 Favorite Books Of The Year
AN Esquire Magazine Best Book Of The Year
In the tradition of Being Digital and The Tipping Point, Steven Johnson, acclaimed as a "cultural critic with a poet's heart" (The Village Voice), takes readers on an eye-opening journey through emergence theory and its applications. Explaining why the whole is sometimes smarter than the sum of its parts, Johnson presents surprising examples of feedback, self-organization, and adaptive learning. How does a lively neighborhood evolve out of a disconnected group of shopkeepers, bartenders, and real estate developers? How does a media event take on a life of its own? How will new software programs create an intelligent World Wide Web?
In the coming years, the power of self-organization — coupled with the connective technology of the Internet — will usher in a revolution every bit as significant as the introduction of electricity. Provocative and engaging, Emergence puts you on the front lines of this exciting upheaval in science and thought.
Scribner (August 28, 2001)
How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
In this hip, erudite manifesto, Steven Johnson bridges the gap that yawns between technology and the arts.
Drawing on his own expertise in the humanities and on the Web, Steven Johnson not only demonstrates how interfaces — those buttons, graphics, and words on the computer screen through which we control information — influence our daily lives, but also tracks their roots back to Victorian novels, early cinema, and even medieval urban planning. The result is a lush cultural and historical tableau in which today's interfaces take their rightful place in the lineage of artistic innovation. With a distinctively accessible style, Interface Culture brings new intellectual depth to the vital discussion of how technology has transformed society, and is sure to provoke wide debate in both literary and technological circles.
Basic Books; Rep Sub edition (October 7, 1999)
Steven tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.
New Models of Innovation
How businesses are beginning to exploit the power of social software to generate breakthrough ideas, using new tools to tap the wisdom of their customers and clients. In this presentation, Steven helps marketers better understand the social media marketing landscape and show how companies can adapt their marketing plans to a more client-centric approach. Specifically, he will explore how social network services like Facebook and Twitter relate to historical hubs of innovation—coffee shops and urban neighborhoods—and explain how businesses can model their approach to client outreach based on these examples.
Education In The Digital Age: What The Google Generation Needs To Learn – And What They Can Teach Us
Expanding on his much-discussed 2005 bestseller, Everything Bad Is Good For You, Steven explains what schools and parents need to learn from the amazingly complex technology and culture that the Google Generation is now immersed in. He explains how video games are transforming the classroom environment; how digital books are going to revolutionize libraries and scholarship; and why social network sites are actually training kids for the twenty-first century workplace.
The Ghost Map: How One Doctor Changed The World By Listening To His Patients
Based on the acclaimed 2006 bestseller, The Ghost Map, this talk tells the thrilling story of how two unlikely allies turned London's most deadly cholera epidemic into a scientific breakthrough that transformed human civilization. A gripping medical mystery, the story has an important lesson for today’s health care industry: the need for “experts” to learn from wisdom of local communities.
The Six Scales of Innovation (or How To Have Good Ideas)
Drawing on his 2009 bestseller, The Invention of Air, this talk uses the extraordinary story of Ben Franklin and Joseph Priestley’s scientific collaboration as a framework to explain how innovation happens in networks – from the neural networks of the human brain, to the informal shoptalk of the Enlightenment-era coffeehouse, to the hyperlinked creativity of the modern Internet. It’s a fascinating history lesson with direct implications for anyone looking to cultivate and capture the natural creativity of an organization.
The Future Of News
In this visionary and refreshingly optimistic talk, Steven draws on his experiences starting three influential and award-winning Web sites to explain why the long-term prospects for news in a networked age are surprisingly good, despite the crisis in the newspaper industry. He explains why the transition from newspaper monopolies to a much more diverse ecosystem of bloggers, traditional media, social networks, and public databases will create a more informed and engaged public in the coming decades.
Where Good Ideas Come From - TEDGlobal
An independent financial services firm:
Dear Steven — I cannot thank you enough for your riveting presentation at the [...] Summit. The “speak easy” set-up was the perfect backdrop for your discussion on where good ideas come from. This was a bit out of the box for us and it was great how you really got the audience engaged. The feedback has been extremely positive and we are absolutely thrilled. You get an A+ my friend! It was truly an honor, a pleasure and really good fun working with you.
One of the world’s largest food companies:
Steven’s style is wonderfully dynamic and engaging.
He has an open & frank personality with a GREAT sense of humor.
He was so down-to-earth and relatable.
He had some wonderful stories that really spoke to the entire breadth of our diverse technical community.
His total keynote address was just under 45 minutes, but it felt as though the time flew by. He could have easily spoken for 10-15 minutes more and kept the attention of our audience.
A pioneer in online audience targeting technology:
Just wanted to reach out and say how happy we were with Steven’s address yesterday at our event. He was a pleasure to work with and exceeded our expectations.
A regional library:
The Keynote Address was a big hit. Steven was articulate, funny, and interesting. His choice of subject ("the 7 ways of reading," or how social software is changing the reading experience) was very topical and completely in line with current issues and concerns in the library world. Overall, we were extremely pleased with our choice of speaker. Our formal evaluations are not yet in, but the unofficial verbal reports I received were all very positive.
A European television company:
Steve was a raging success, his is highly professional, he researched us and the industry well and it was very evdient. His talk was fantastic and people are still discussing it.
A major computer firm:
Great, charming, completely enjoyed him. Really good material, told in an interesting way. Loved him.
A major entertainment company:
It turned out to be a terrific conference and Steven Johnson was an integral part of it. He was an amazing speaker - speaking with a lot of credibility, experience and passion! This was a pretty tough group of senior TV executives to talk to but he had them enraptured - many had commented that he was the "highlight of the summit" and "a real treat". He also nailed the brief 100% and his talk fit in perfectly with our summit theme which was about the future direction of the television industry.
And, I wouldn't be surprised if our domestic executives would be interested in having him as a guest speaker for a U.S. event - will certainly let you know if this is the case!
So a big thank you for this recommendation - we couldn't have had a better speaker!
A Fortune 50 company:
Steven was a big hit...he provided some valuable insights to us. He talked about new net based forums…finding patterns in the insane chaos of data overload. He shared with us his equation that local experience + visible trails + pattern recognition technologies = rapid knowledge prediction. Resonated well with the researchers.
— Stanford Social Innovation Review