The Innovative Environment: or Why Mad Scientists Have It All #27 #cong17

By Claude Warren.

Claude Warren #27 Creativity Environment Mad Scientist

Photo by Cody Davis

Between ca. 5500 and 1500 BCE in southwestern California and northwestern Baja California there existed a prehistoric culture that is known as the La Jolla Complex.  This was a complex culture who derived most of their sustenance from shore line food sources as is evidenced by the shell middens they left behind. Most of what we know is technical in nature as only technical aspects leave remains that survive the 7500 years to the present day. They did not develop projectile points (arrow/spear heads) though they knew about them as there are a few from contemporary cultures further to the east.  This culture was technologically unchanged for 4000 years, until the lagoons began to silt in and the shellfish became harder to find.

The La Jolla cultural complex demonstrates that one of the key requirements for innovation is the presence of at least one stressor.  A stressor can be lack of food, a competitor entering a market, a cultural construct like status, or just a desire to answer a question.

The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilber, developed the airplane and demonstrated powered flight on December 17, 1903.  I don’t know what their stressor was but I like to think the thrill of flying drove them. That the Wright brothers were innovators is unquestioned.   They received their patent for the airplane on May 22, 1906 but made no flights at all in 1906 and 1907 instead focusing on defending their patent and attempting to sell their planes to governments.  Meanwhile other inventors developed more innovative air craft.  In 1917 when the US entered the war a licensing pool was instituted and all aircraft manufacturers were required to participate in a cross licensing of their patents.  This effectively ended the Wright brothers patent challenges. At that point there were no aircraft manufactures in the US and the US had to rely on European built aircraft.

The Wright brothers are a cautionary tale about the fate of innovators when resources become unavailable.  Resources is a nebulous term that in this context means “the things needed to develop new ways of doing things.”  In a business setting this may mean providing funding for experimental equipment or time for people to work on the problem.  For a single innovator it may be completely unrelated activities that give mental space for the ideas to come.  As Einstein said about his theory of relativity: “I thought of that while riding my bicycle.” Another example of resource restriction are hunter/gatherer societies where the main food source population is crashing.  If the reaction is to do what has always been done, but do it “harder” then resources may not be available for hunting, gathering or other food innovation.  As the food population declines the hardship within the community increases until starvation takes its toll.

The final factor necessary for innovation is creativity.  In general all people are creative though how we are creative is different for each person.  So while creativity is required this factor is in general only a measure of how fast the innovation will occur.  In cultures that value different views and perspectives should have higher rates of innovation if other factors are held constant.

A counter example for creativity can be found in the area of artificial intelligence.  Computer systems do not have creativity, they can do what they have always done and they can find more efficient ways of doing the same thing, but they can not look outside of their core programming to find a radically different way to achieve the goal.

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie