Where Do Good Ideas Come From the Natural History of Innovation?

Innovation is the driving force behind progress. It has led to some of the most significant discoveries and developments in human history.

But where do good ideas come from? This is a question that has puzzled thinkers for centuries. In this article, we will explore the natural history of innovation and try to answer this age-old question.

The Evolution of Ideas

Ideas are not static; they evolve over time. They are influenced by various factors such as culture, environment, and technology.

The evolution of ideas can be traced back to the earliest human societies when people shared knowledge through oral traditions. As societies developed, writing emerged as a new way to preserve and disseminate information.

The Power of Connection

One of the key drivers of innovation is connection. When people from different backgrounds come together, they bring with them unique perspectives and experiences that can spark new ideas. This is why cities have historically been centers of innovation; they bring together people from diverse backgrounds and provide a space for collaboration.

The Role of Serendipity

Serendipity – the occurrence of happy accidents – also plays a significant role in innovation. Many great discoveries have been made by accident or chance encounters. For example, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin when he noticed that mold had contaminated one of his petri dishes.

The Importance of Failure

Innovation often involves taking risks, and with risk comes the possibility of failure. However, failure is an essential part of the creative process because it helps us learn what doesn’t work so we can refine our ideas and try again.

Building on Existing Ideas

Innovative ideas rarely emerge out of thin air; they are usually built on existing ideas or technologies. For example, Steve Jobs didn’t invent the smartphone; he built on existing technologies like touch screens and mobile internet to create the iPhone.

The Future of Innovation

As technology continues to advance, the pace of innovation is accelerating. However, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the natural history of innovation and the factors that have driven it in the past. Collaboration, serendipity, and failure will continue to play a crucial role in the future of innovation.


Innovation is a complex and multifaceted process. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to where good ideas come from, we can look to the natural history of innovation for guidance. By understanding the factors that have driven innovation in the past, we can better prepare ourselves for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.