·  2 min read

When Ideas Have Sex

I just finished reading How Innovation Works by Matt Ridley - his follow-up to The Rational Optimist. Both are worthy of your time, particularly if you work in the world of product development. Great lessons and recurring themes in both.

I’d never heard of Matt until I stumbled across his 2010 TED talk “When ideas have sex.” To this day it remains my favourite TED talk of all.

Matt’s talk touches on a few themes I feel passionate about in the context of building Technology Platforms and Economies around them.

  • Innovation relies on the exchange of ideas. No one person in the world “invented” or can build most things that we take for granted. Coffee makers, cups, cars, buildings, and mobile phones are all the product of incremental progress, and cumulative idea exchange.

  • Without open channels for idea exchange, we don’t progress - we regress. Matt’s example of isolated Tasmanians regressing when Tasmania became an island 10,000 years ago is “brain drain” in practice. When knowledge-holders migrate (or die) their ideas go with them.

  • Innovation breeds innovation. When others specialise for us (to eliminate “work-work”) the more time we unlock to create specialized value in return. Carmakers don’t worry about building car radios, washers, nuts, bolts, or tyres. They rebundle these components as “cars.”

  • Specialization breeds prosperity. Matt defines prosperity as “the saving of time in satisfying your needs.” The easier it is to get our jobs done, the more prosperous we are. Successful Platform companies encourage bottoms-up specialization, and are prosperous as a result.

It’s a funny, optimistic talk with lessons on history, economics, and biology. Well worth watching.

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