the innovation imperative

“It turns out that to develop a ‘cumulative culture’ – technology that constantly ratchets up in complexity and diversity – a species needs to be able to share information very accurately. It doesn’t matter how much novel invention takes place, unless those inventions are replicated accurately then they die out before they can be built upon.” —Prof. Kevin Laland, University of St. Andrew’s

Humans differ from other primates because we share our knowledge and build upon it. Society has advanced because we share that knowledge with a large population. If not, we will cease to progress,  because innovation is a network activity.

Platform capitalism promotes the opposite of knowledge sharing, which is rather ironic considering it is often referred to as ‘the sharing economy’. But can society afford to have our collective knowledge, and its flow, controlled by only a few mega-corporations? The lack of diversity and opportunities for sharing outside the platform could diminish invention replication. Monopolies are not innovative.

Another challenge we humans have is that we do not recognize that diversity is better. Socially dissimilar groups of people have less confidence in their decisions than socially similar ones. We are prone  to believe people like ourselves are better, but research shows that we make better decisions through diversity. Promoting diversity goes against our nature. Therefore we have to actively promote it. Individuals have to get outside of their affinity groups. Organizations need to structure for openness, transparency, and diversity.

If we are to encourage innovation, we have to work hard at engaging with diverse groups of people. We have to share our knowledge as freely and widely as possible. Sharing is the innovation imperative. Open human structures enable transparent knowledge sharing, which fosters innovation from a diversity of perspectives. This becomes a virtuous cycle. Stop sharing, and the cycle is disrupted.

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