The last few pages of the chapter on Liquid Networks are fantastic. They help to explain the crux of the chapter and are basically some of the key insights of this entire book. I particularly like this sentence: “…the most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop.”
Why is that the case – that people in a group can come up with more ideas and better ideas? I suppose the conclusion seems obvious — “two heads are better than one” — but it’s fun to really see someone like Johnson identify the mechanism at work here. That mechanism is that one person’s ideas affect the other members of the group. My ideas affect your reasoning, which in turn affect your ideas, and then this effect cascades around the group. (For a similar conclusion, there are some interesting passages in Innovation: The Five Disciplines which touch on “compounding ideas.”)
Johnson also explains how this mechanism explains the explosion of ideas that accompanied larger populations of people in cities and global marketplaces. He says good ideas come out of these crowds not because there is wisdom in a crowd, but because a person in a crowd is wiser – he or she has more access to interesting knowledge via the network.
The core theme here is simple – that networking people together can produce more ideas and better ideas – and that the mechanism at work here is the interaction of people feeding off one another’s thinking. I think I’ll be cutting and pasting that sentence into the main book summary.