Kevin Kelly and Steve Johnson (Illustration: Jason Holley, Wired)

This is a follow on to my earlier post about Steve Johnson’s new book, Where Ideas Come From.

These excerpts are from a conversation between Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants, and Steve Johnson published in Wired:

Kelly: Really, we should think of ideas as connections, in our brains and among people. Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks. They travel in clusters.

Johnson: I was particularly taken with your idea that technology wants increasing diversity—which is what I think also happens in biological systems, as the adjacent possible becomes larger with each innovation. As tech critics, I think we have to keep this in mind, because when you expand the diversity of a system, that leads to an increase in great things and an increase in crap.

Kelly: Ten years ago, I was arguing that the problem with TV was that there wasn’t enough bad TV. Making TV was so expensive that accountants prevented it from becoming really crappy—or really great. It was all mediocre. But that was before YouTube. Now there is great TV!

Kelly: To create something great, you need the means to make a lot of really bad crap. Another example is spectrum. One reason we have this great explosion of innovation in wireless right now is that the US deregulated spectrum. Before that, spectrum was something too precious to be wasted on silliness. But when you deregulate—and say, OK, now waste it—then you get Wi-Fi.

Johnson: This is another idea with a clear evolutionary parallel, right? If we didn’t have genetic mutations, we wouldn’t have us. You need error to open the door to the adjacent possible.

Kelly: In my book, I quote the astrophysicist Paul Davies, who asks whether the laws of nature are “rigged in favor of life.” For my part, I think the laws of nature are rigged in favor of innovation.

Johnson: Life seems to gravitate toward these complex states where there’s just enough disorder to create new things. There’s a rate of mutation just high enough to let interesting new innovations happen, but not so many mutations that every new generation dies off immediately.

Kelly: Right. This is a big theme in your book, too—the idea that the most creative environments allow for repeated failure.