CategoryQuoted

Matt Ridley: Does Science Drive Innovation?

Science is the daughter of technology   Politicians believe that innovation can be turned on and off like a tap. It starts, you see, with pure scientific insights, which then get translated into applied science, which in turn become useful technology. So what you must do, as a patriotic legislator, is ensure there is a ready supply of money to scientists on the top floor of their ivory towers, and lo and behold, technology will come clanking out of the pipe at the bottom of the tower.   This ‘linear model’ of how science drives innovation and prosperity goes right back to Francis...

Steven Johnson on Ideas “Ahead of Their Time”

In the early 1920s, two Columbia University scholars named William Ogburn and Dorothy Thomas decided to track down as many multiples as they could find, eventually publishing their survey in an influential essay with the delightful title “Are Inventions Inevitable?” Ogburn and Thomas found 148 instances of independent innovation, most them occurring within the same decade. Reading the list now, one is struck not just by the sheer number of cases, but how indistinguishable the list is from an unfiltered history of big ideas. Multiples have been invoked to support hazy theories about the...

Diamandis & Kotler on Constraints That Liberate

Creativity, we are often told, is a kind of free-flowing, wide-ranging, “anything goes” kind of thinking. Ideas must be allowed to flourish unhindered. There’s an entire literature of “think-outside-the-box” business strategies to go along with these notions, but, if innovation is truly the goal, as brothers Dan and Chip Heath, the best-selling authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, point out in the pages of Fast Company, “[ D] on’t think outside the box. Go box shopping. Keep trying on one after another until you find the one that catalyzes your thinking. A good box...

The Adjacent Possible

“On a certain level, change is being driven by a fundamental property of technology: the fact that it expands into what theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman calls “the adjacent possible.” Before the invention of the wheel, the cart, the carriage, the automobile, the wheelbarrow, the roller skate, and a million other offshoots of circularity were not imaginable. They existed in a realm that was off-limits until the wheel was discovered, but once discovered, these pathways became clear. This is the adjacent possible. It’s the long list of first-order possibilities that open up whenever a...

When Die-Hard Optimists Undercalaculated

“It is important to remember that in 1953 none of the technology for these futuristic journeys existed [journeys out of the atmosphere]. No one knew how to go that fast and survive. Even the most optimistic die-hard visionaries did not expect a lunar landing any sooner than the proverbial “Year 2000.” The only voice telling them they could do it was a curve on a piece of paper. But the curve was right. Just not politically correct. In 1957 the USSR launched Sputnik, right on schedule. Then US rockets zipped to the Moon 12 years later. As [Damien] Broderick notes, humans arrived on the...

Local Optimism, Global Pessimism

But there’s a flip side: while we seriously overestimate ourselves, we significantly underestimate the world at large.   Human beings are designed to be local optimists and global pessimists and this is an even bigger problem for abundance. Kahneman and Tversky’s collaborator, Cornell University psychologist Thomas Gilovich, believes the issue is twofold. ‘First, as anchoring shows, there’s a direct link between imagination and perception. Second, we’re control fiends and are significantly more optimistic about things we believe we can control. If I ask you what you can do to get a...

What Is Dunbar’s Number?

About twenty years ago, Oxford University evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar discovered another problem with our local and linear perspectives. Dunbar was interested in the number of active interpersonal relationships that the human brain could process at one time. After examining global and historical trends, he found that people tend to self-organize in groups of 150. This explains why the US military, through a long period of trial and error, concluded that 150 is the optimal size for a functional fighting unit. Similarly, when Dunbar examined the traffic patterns from social media...

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