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A Sure-Fire Way to Stop Innovation

island We read the transcript of a great speech, entitled How to Get Rich, given by Jared Diamond at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. It offers some great lessons in history, economics, and innovation.

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He asks the question, “What is the best way to organize human groups and human organizations and businesses so as to maximize productivity, creativity, innovation, and wealth?”

Now wouldn’t we all like to know the answer to that question?

He says that in the thirteen thousand years of human history, we have thousands upon thousands of “natural” experiments. To answer his question, he looked at extreme examples of societies in isolation.

The isolation begins

About ten thousand years ago, the places we know as Australia, Tasmania, and Flinders Island were connected – people could freely travel back and forth between them. Then the glaciers melted.

Even though they were only about 200 miles apart, the water-going craft of that era couldn’t traverse the rough seas between these three islands. So the 4,000 people of Tasmania and 200 people on Flinders Island became completely isolated from the rest of the world.

The isolation ends
In the seventeenth century, these two islands were “discovered” by the Europeans. The first to be rediscovered was Tasmania. It was noted that, at the time, the society was the least technologically advanced and most primitive group of people in the world.

They had no fire. They didn’t have any tools. They didn’t even know how to fish. In fact, archeologists have shown that they had less technology than they had ten thousand years before.

So, you ask, what about the 200 people on Flinders Island? When it was discovered around the same time, there were no people there. They became extinct.

Our islands

So we learn that small isolated groups don’t innovate. They may even regress. This historical example got us thinking about islands that we create, often without even realizing that we’re placing ourselves in isolation.

Field

Discoveries aren’t isolated to a single field. If you only talk to people within your field, if you only consume content in your space, you’re missing out on a whole world of ideas that may be fruitful for your field.

Media
Many people only consume media with which they agree. Seek out the opposing point-of-view. When you do that, you’ll either reinforce your beliefs or you’ll start to discover other alternatives.

People
Universities often don’t hire graduates of their own programs as professors. They fear it will lead to nepotistic thinking. Let’s learn a lesson from their policy. Get outside your circles of friends and business associates. If you work in the for-profit world, get to know some people in the non-profit world. If you work in government, make sure some of your influencers are in the private sector.

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georgeI’m a pretty social person. But looking back on my former businesses, I’ve come to realize that I wasn’t feeling fulfilled because I didn’t spend enough time seeking out ideas and alternatives outside my sphere.

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It’s so easy to get so busy running your business, working your career, or managing your life that you fail to invest important time in connecting yourself to people, places and things that expand your mind.

Islands are a great place to visit. Just make sure you don’t get stuck there.

What islands have you seen people create?

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One Response to A Sure-Fire Way to Stop Innovation

  1. [...] better than societies that don’t. Isolation doesn’t work. It slows progress. In fact, isolation can actually cause societies to go backwards. We wonder, though, which comes [...]

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