Steven Johnson: The anatomy of an idea

Published by Lori Pickert on December 16, 2011 at 03:36 PM

Steven Johnson talking about the anatomy of an idea (hat tip Maria again):

People often ask me about my research techniques. You would think this would be a relatively straightforward question, but the truth is that I have to keep changing my answer, because my techniques are constantly shifting as new forms of search or discovery become possible.

The discovery process is remarkably social, and the social interactions come in amazingly diverse forms. Sometimes it's overhearing a conversation on Twitter between two complete strangers; sometimes it's the virtual book club of something like Findings; sometimes it's going out to lunch with a friend and bouncing new ideas off them. It's the social life of information, in John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid's wonderful phrase — we just have so many more ways of being social now.

Priming is everything. All these new tools are incredible for making rapid-fire discoveries and associations, but you need a broad background of knowledge to prime you for those discoveries.

It’s been said it a thousand times before, by me and many others, but it's worth repeating again: people who think the Web is killing off serendipity are not using it correctly.

There's a lot here that connects with project-based homeschooling: embracing technology as a new way of learning and connecting, the importance of finding collaborators, the need for a foundation of knowledge to work with. 

4 comments

Comment by Steph on December 16, 2011 at 06:51 PM

Interesting post! And it confirms my hunch that everything I learned in college and grad school about the "right" way to do research may be obsolete. Is this the same fellow who wrote Everything Bad Is Good For You? I really liked that book and thought he seemed like an interesting thinker.

Comment by Dawn Suzette on December 16, 2011 at 07:55 PM

Thanks Lori... and Maria.
Love the idea of priming for new discoveries. I see that happen with the kids already... making those connections based on their base of knowledge.
This also lead me to Findings. Looks very neat!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 18, 2011 at 07:35 PM

steph, yes! that's him. i liked that book, too. it's good to challenge your own assumptions once in awhile.

dawn, me too. :) and thank you!

Comment by Steph on December 20, 2011 at 03:47 AM

Thank you for all the helpful and supportive comments! :)

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