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Great innovations And The Importance Of Errors

Error is present in both the evolution of life and the innovation of great ideas, and it is not always a bad thing.

Consider natural reproduction: genes are passed on from parent to offspring, providing “building instructions” for how the offspring should develop. Without occasional mutations, meaning random errors in those instructions, evolution would have long ago come to a virtual standstill. The elephant’s tusks or peacock’s feathers would have never emerged if only perfect copies of existing genes would have propagated. Mutations endow creatures with new traits.

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MORE IDEAS FROM THE SAME BOOK

Good ideas do not – for the most part – come from inside someone’s head. Instead, they come from outside – specifically from social interaction.

As a child, Tim Berners-Lee read a Victorian-era how-to book and was fascinated by the “portal of information” he had found.

In the Origin of Species, Darwin himself placed equal emphasis on the wonder of complex collaboration between species as on the natural selection that comes from competition for resources.

Good ideas don't come from thoughts or visions. Instead, they come from stuff.

Philosopher John Locke understood the importance of cross-referencing as early on as 1652, when he began developing an elaborate system for indexing the content of his commonplace book, essentially a scrapbook of interesting thoughts and findings. Such books formed his repository of ideas and...

The most creative individuals have broad social networks that extend outside their own organization, and hence get new ideas from many different contexts.

Ecologists use the term keystone species to describe organisms which are disproportionately important to the welfare of the ecosystem.

The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wiser than the sum of its parts.

Good ideas do not come from looking forward or back, rather they come from looking left and right, to what is adjacent to us. Tomorrow’s great innovations are built from the stuff of today – specifically from the things around us that can be combined into something new.

Ideas are often similarly repurposed along the way.

Water moves and churns, dissolving and eroding everything in its path, thus fostering new kinds of connections between atoms in the primordial soup. Just as importantly, the strong hydrogen bonds of water molecules helped maintain those new connections.

Over the past 600 years, the way that great inventions and discoveries are made seems to have gravitated increasingly away from individual inventors and toward networks of people.

  • What new possibilities are there today, that didn’t exist earlier? (principle of adjacent possibilities)
  • What hunches have you had for some time about what to do? (principle of slow hunches)
  • What do fresh eyes think we should do? (principle of liquid net...

Discarded spaces are also transformed through innovation. Just like the skeletal structure left behind by dead coral forms the basis of the rich and thriving ecosystem of the reef, abandoned buildings and rundown neighbourhoods are often the first homes of innovative urban subcultures. Their unco...

Great leaps beyond the adjacent possible are rare and doomed to be short-term failures. The environment is simply not ready for them yet.

With a name like Brand Genetics, we’re predisposed to the central idea that ideas are never ‘created’ out of nothing, but are creative combinations and mutations of existing ideas that have already been brought to life.

Random connections drive serendipitous discoveries. Dreams for example are the primordial soup of innovation, where ideas connect seemingly at random.

Four billion years ago, carbon atoms mulled around the primordial soup.

According to Darwin, the theory of natural selection simply popped into his head when he was contemplating Malthus’ writings on population growth. But Darwin’s notebooks reveal that far before this so-called epiphany, he had already described a very nearly complete theory of natural selection. Th...

Consider the modernist cultural innovations of the 1920s. Many of them were largely a result of artists, poets and writers meeting at the same Parisian cafés. Shared interactions allow ideas to diffuse, circulate and be combined randomly with others.

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