Editor's Note: Steven Johnson is the author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.
By Steven Johnson – Special to CNN
In the video above you see a chart of global GDP over the last 1,000 years, which is basically the best way to measure the increasing value from new products and services created in a society.
If we start the clock at the year 1000, in the middle of the Dark Ages, then look at what happens over the next 500 years - global GDP just flat lines. There's no change at all.
Then the trading capitals of Europe start to light up and you begin to see this slow but steady growth for the next 300 years.
Then stop the clock. It's 1800, the dawn of the Industrial Age. Steam power is starting to revolutionize life in Britain, the United States and Europe.
Then in the video above you can see what happens over the next 200 years. You see this dramatic spike - a global spike - in GDP everywhere around the planet. This is an extraordinary change. Something this dramatic has never happened before over the course of human history.
Now, why is it happening? It's being driven by new ideas and new innovations that put those ideas to practical use. And more often than not, it's new innovations that help us in capturing and sharing energy and information in new ways.
Perhaps the most interesting data over the last couple of hundred years, is in 1800 2 percent of human beings lived in cities. And now it's 50 percent. And when people gather together, there is just this extraordinary process where marketplaces form, ideas flow more easily and people collaborate in new ways. And so cities have historically been great drivers of innovation. And I think as the planet becomes more and more urban, we're going to see that process continuing.
For more from Steven Johnson, tune in at 8pm tonight for a CNN GPS special, "Restoring the American Dream: How to Innovate." Also, follow Fareed Zakaria on twitter (@FareedZakaria) where he'll be live tweeting the special along with Steven Johnson.
Finally, bookmark this page, the "Global Innovation Showcase" for more from the New America Foundation and the Global Public Square on innovation.