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The Collaborative “Forth Quadrant” Drives Innovation

October 30, 2010: 12:54 AM EST

Critical innovations often come not from lone entrepreneurs, amateurs or private companies, but from the “fourth quadrant”: an area of nonproprietary innovation, such as the Web, where innovations are not owned by anyone. This “fourth quadrant” is collaborative by nature and, according to Steven Johnson, author of “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation,” who analyzed 300 influential innovations, is the source of more game-changing ideas than the competitive domain. Johnson sees the Internet as the ideal environment for supporting fourth-quadrant innovation, even though the economic opportunity (idea ownership) is lower. He expects to see rapid innovation as connectivity increases: “Ideas are free to flow from mind to mind, and to be refined and modified without complex business development deals or patent lawyers.”

STEVEN JOHNSON, "Innovation: It Isn’t a Matter of Left or Right", New York Times , October 30, 2010, © The New York Times Company
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