WNNY: Can the Innovation Hubs of New York and San Francisco Ramp Up a Reinvention of America with Steven Johnson

Few people understand innovation, and the peculiar kinds of innovation practiced in both New York and San Francisco, better than Steven Johnson. The best-selling author has written 10 books that essentially all deal with innovation, and he maintains a home in both places, shuttling his family between each. Steven was the perfect person to launch our inaugural event in our new What’s Now: New York series, an expansion of our highly successful What’s Now: San Francisco series of the last two years. He was also the perfect person to lead a conversation on how these two dynamic regions could complement each other in driving more widespread and fundamental innovation through America’s business, economy, society, and politics in the coming decade. Many Americans are close to despair about the state of the country’s paralyzed politics, mounting inequality, and increasing climate change. That despair has also led to an increasing backlash against the role of Big Tech in our lives and in our politics—a debate that Steven has been engaged with in several books and articles that he has published over the past few years.

We started the evening with Steven reflecting on what he has learned about what makes for an innovative environment, whether at the macro regional level, or in particular spaces. He also reflected on what’s different about the tech scenes of New York and San Francisco, and the potential dangers of a culture that values disruption above all else. A big part of the evening, as always at What’s Now, was conversation with the invite-only crowd. Steven speculated on how the two regions might help ramp up more widespread economic and societal reinvention in the coming decade, and others offered their own suggestions as well.

Steven led a conversation in our What’s Now: San Francisco series at the beginning of this year where those gathered helped him think through what’s needed to improve long-term decision-making, the subject of his upcoming book. This What’s Now: New York event coincided with the launch of the paperback version of his last book: Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, which looks at the role that a childlike curiosity plays in innovation, with examples rooted in both New York and San Francisco.