INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
EnlightenNext MARCH 10, 2011 - by Elizabeth Debold
IN SEARCH OF TRUE SCENIUS - 2: GENIUS AND THE NETWORK
We've been very impressed by Steven Johnson's new book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History Of Innovation. Johnson doesn't appear to use the term "scenius" (even though Brian Eno, who coined that term, did read Johnson's manuscript). His thinking about the connection between individual genius and the social environment is very much in line with the concept of scenius. Johnson makes really clear that, in innovative contexts, the unique contribution of the individual is not subsumed by the collective, but enhanced by it. I'm struck that this is not only a new more systemic approach to understanding the emergence of genius, but it's also describing an innovation in thought itself. Why? Because it forces us beyond the dichotomies and polarities of our modernist habits of thinking: self/other, individual/collective.
Check out the following quote from Johnson's second chapter on "Liquid Networks":
"In thinking about networked innovation... I am specifically not talking about a 'global brain' or a 'hive mind.' There are indeed some problems that are wonderfully solved by collective thinking: the formation of neighborhoods and cities, the variable signals of market pricing, the elaborate engineering feats of the social insects. But as many critics have pointed out... large collectives are rarely capable of true creativity or innovation. (We have the term 'herd mentality' for a reason.) When the first market towns emerged in Italy, they didn't magically create some higher level group consciousness. They simply widened the pool of minds that could come up with and share good ideas. This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It's not that the network itself is smart; it's that the individuals get smarter because they are connected to the network."
Johnson's work is helping us to develop our ideas about the fundamental principles of creating scenius.