Anarchy, Individualism and Innovation


I was telling an old friend recently how much I felt universities and corporations distort history and misrepresent themselves. Innovations, these institutions keep telling us, spring with glorious frequency and success from their labs, and the heads of their designers, researchers, engineers, and managers.

The problem is that most world-changing innovations seem to emerge from individual's pursuing their passions, and often at liberty from the shackles of any institution. Consider the cutting-edge work of Darwin, Einstein, Picasso, or Alan Turing, These intellectual revolutionaries were working on their own terms.

When novelty comes from within a large organization, it's more despite than because of the context. Big organizations are much better at exploiting than exploring. They are often risk-averse, controlling and - perhaps unintentionally - stifling of creativity.

However, my friend pointed out: yes, the first good aircraft might have emerged from someone's barn, but the first good Mach7 aircraft will emerge from a mighty corporate-alliance, investing billions of dollars, over a multi-decade cycle of highly-planned effort. This is still glorious innovation. Or more precisely, many innovations, packed into one astonishing product.

The lesson; if you are interested in truly fresh-to-the-world innovation and invention, seek out the independent, free-spirited, anarchic, individualistic misfits. If you want derivative-innovation requiring huge capital investment, seek out the government or corporation. All this suggests to me a fascinating open issue: will highly-distributed, web-enabled, anarchic, crowd-sourced and designed, crowd-funded products ever be able to compete with corporations? What if a Mach7 plane could be made by the crowd? How would the process be managed?


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