I’m busy this winter preparing several talks in the spring on the topic of “innovative schools, innovative students,” and so have the pleasure of diving in again into the best thinking I can find about the rich, complex, and often enormously gratifying nature of innovation.
In the TED talk above, author Matt Ridley makes clear with wonderful historical references that “through crowd sourcing,through the bottom-up world that we’ve created, where not just the elites but everybody is able to have their ideas and make them meet and mate,we are surely accelerating the rate of innovation.”
Collaboration and sharing are qualities of character and skills of cooperation which we often teach and advocate for their own sake, but what is so rewarding to come to understand better is how essential they are for innovation. When we strive to have our students work in groups, and when we encourage them to research best practices and seek out innovative practices online, and when we assist them and assist ourselves in developing their own networks of connection with others around the world who share their passions, we are empowering them (and us) to be better innovators and better problem-solvers.
And innovation isn’t itself the end-goal, it still always the means: the means toward the end of making a better world:
Awful things will happen in this century, I’m absolutely sure. But I’m also sure that, because of the connections people are making,and the ability of ideas to meet and to mate as never before, I’m also sure that technology will advance, and therefore living standards will advance.
Some favorite quotes from the talk:
The computer mouse is made from a confection of different substances, from silicon and metal and plastic and so on. And more than that, it’s a confection of different ideas, the idea of plastic, the idea of a laser, the idea of transistors. They’ve all been combined together in this technology.
And it’s this combination, this cumulative technology, that intrigues me, because I think it’s the secret to understanding what’s happening in the world.
You can have culture without exchange. You can have, as it were, asexual culture. Chimpanzees, killer whales, these kinds of creatures, they have culture. They teach each other traditions which are handed down from parent to offspring. In this case, chimpanzees teaching each other how to crack nuts with rocks.But the difference is that these cultures never expand, never grow, never accumulate, never become combinatorial, and the reason is becausethere is no sex, as it were, there is no exchange of ideas.
When the sea level rose and Tasmania became an island 10,000 years ago, the people on it not only experienced slower progress than people on the mainland, they actually experienced regress. They gave up the ability to make stone tools and fishing equipment and clothing because the population of about 4,000 people was simply not large enough to maintain the specialized skills necessary to keep the technology they had
But who knows how to make a computer mouse? Nobody, literally nobody. There is nobody on the planet who knows how to make a computer mouse. I mean this quite seriously. The president of the computer mouse company doesn’t know. He just knows how to run a company. The person on the assembly line doesn’t know because he doesn’t know how to drill an oil well to get oil out to make plastic, and so on. We all know little bits, but none of us knows the whole.
What’s relevant to a society is how well people are communicating their ideas, and how well they’re cooperating, not how clever the individuals are. So we’ve created something called the collective brain. We’re just the nodes in the network. We’re the neurons in this brain. It’s the interchange of ideas, the meeting and mating of ideas between them, that is causing technological progress, incrementally, bit by bit.
Awful things will happen in this century, I’m absolutely sure. But I’m also sure that, because of the connections people are making,and the ability of ideas to meet and to mateas never before, I’m also sure that technology will advance,and therefore living standards will advance. Because through the cloud, through crowd sourcing,through the bottom-up world that we’ve created,where not just the elites but everybodyis able to have their ideas and make them meet and mate,we are surely accelerating the rate of innovation.