"The greatest technology that humans ever created is humanity itself" Kevin Kelly
Funny. The day I blog about serendipity, creativity, connection and the combination of ideas (and 'flow' within organisations), I serendipitously see the first talk posted from this week's TEDGlobal 2010 which is all about creativity, connection, and the combination of ideas.
Ever since I read this short Wired piece about the work of Seirian Sumner (a biologist at the Institute of Zoology, London, who studies social behaviour), and saw Jeremy Rifkin talk about The Empathic Civilisation, I've been wondering about the place where the utilitarian, self-interested, 'survival of the fittest' thinking that characterises Evolutionary Theory meets the altogether softer, more empathic, social and altruistic characteristics expounded by recent research into child development and brain science (including the discovery of Mirror-neurons). Seirian Sumner observed paper-wasp behaviour by gluing RFID tags to them:
"I had noticed that workers from neighbouring nests were helping each other. But once we got the RFIDs on, we saw that sometimes 50 percent of the workers at a nest weren't born there — they were helping out their cousins. This goes against our understanding of evolution. The question is, why they do it?"
Many (some would say most) innovations are recombinations of existing knowledge. In his TED talk, author Matt Ridley talks about how the engine of human progress has throughout history been the bringing together of the human brain, the combining and re-combining of ideas, and the process of exchange. I saw Jon Bains recently, talking about the guilds within World Of Warcraft, the virtual world game that now numbers around 11 million players. The amazing thing about the guilds is that they are self-forming, self-organising groups of up to 30-40 people who come together to perform specific tasks (like take part in a battle), each member with their specific role in the task. And there are thousands of them.
Being part of something bigger is a motivation in itself, but it also shows again how self-interest married to group interest (through a common purpose) can be mutually reinforcing and a remarkably efficient way of progressing and getting stuff done. New connective technologies enable the exchange, meeting (and mating) of ideas on a never before seen scale. Lots more ideas, having lots more sex.