I’m doing a bit of work currently indexing the ideas that have been floating around the organization here at The Times, to see if they’d make sense as possible future new products. Yesterday I wrote about the question that always pops up when you do this, of “should new ideas be a top down or bottom up thing?”
This morning I woke up with a broader question in mind: where do ideas come from at The Times? How do they emerge, take shape, become good? And how could we enable that, supercharge it, and bake it into the company permanently?
I’m lucky because my friend Steven Johnson has written a book about this exact topic (about the world, not about The Times), called Where Good Ideas Come From. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to download it tonight and have a look.
My guess though knowing Steven is that his answer, at the highest level, would be that good ideas aren’t the product of a lone genius who gets struck by a bolt of inspiration, but are rather the product of dense and open networks of people, with ideas getting passed freely from one to the next. Some ideas get improved upon as they move, some get discarded, some are totally useless to one group but the perfect answer to another group’s biggest problem, etc.
That squares with my own gut feeling about ideas, which is why in addition to talking with people about the existing ideas that have already been registered, I’ve started setting up lunches with small groups from disparate parts of the organization to have open, unscripted, low-stakes talks about their new ideas. I had my first yesterday with a few folks around “what’s your most dangerous idea?” and some very good things came out of it.
I’m going to read Steven’s book as soon as I’m done with my current read, Zero to One, and will report back here on how it relates to new product ideation at big companies. My bet though is that the best ideas for future new products at The Times are going to come from good, open networks and a lot of cross pollination.