The Nature of Innovation
One of my favorite talks of all time is Ken Robinson’s on how children are born naturally innovative and the process of schooling and growing up in our society beats it out of them by the time they are adults. More recently, Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat Pray Love fame) opened some eyes with this talk on how we think of individual creativity and where it comes from.
But I want to focus here on something that’s rarely discussed: group innovation. Can true innovation (like scientific or technological breakthroughs) come through collaborative effort, or is it always a matter of a singular individual? This article in the New Yorker suggests that not only can innovation be done in groups, but the innovative process can be mechanized.
Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures is the existence proof. But as the article points out:
The unavoidable first response to Myhrvold and his crew is to think of them as a kind of dream team, but, of course, the fact that they invent as prodigiously and effortlessly as they do is evidence that they are not a dream team at all. You could put together an Intellectual Ventures in Los Angeles, if you wanted to, and Chicago, and New York and Baltimore, and anywhere you could find enough imagination, a fresh set of eyes, and a room full of [talented but not genius level thinkers].
We have a lot of problems in this world. And a lot of talented (but not genius level) thinkers. So, given all this, what can we do to unleash the innovative potential that is not being tapped?