Innovators and Traditionalists in an Endless Feedback Loop
Innovation, creativity skills and genes
Constant change and transformation is at the heart of human evolution and all progress, and a healthy tension between all innovators and traditionalists should be the driving force of our societies.
In the western tradition, according to the concept of ethical dualism of good and evil forces, innovation and traditionalism is all about two opposing forces fighting to gain dominance. But just as a world dominated only by innovators (dreamers, pioneers) would be chaotic and unstable, in this way a world dominated only by traditionalists (conservatives, “the gatekeepers of the old”) would be slow-moving, static, archaic and stagnant.
Or as Satish Kumar (born 9 August 1936), an Indian British activist and speaker, stated:
"All the big problems of the world today are routed in the philosophy of separateness and dualism."
So, what best describes the relationship between innovators and traditionalists is the concept of the Chinese philosophy Yin and Yang, where two seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another working together to maintain life eternally.
“Yin and yang, male and female, strong and weak, rigid and tender, heaven and earth, light and darkness, thunder and lightning, cold and warmth, good and evil... the interplay of opposite principles constitutes the universe.” Confucius
In this concept of Yin and Yang, innovation and conservatism are like the morning and night cycling through time without end. Put the matter another way, a dialogue seen as an endless feedback loop between innovators and traditionalists is just a pathway formed by an “effect” returning to its “cause” mechanism, generating in the end either more or less the same result: change.
In this loop, when a conservative establishment suppresses independent thought and label it as a threat to its hegemony, it creates just an evolutionary force that drives pioneers and innovators to push forward change. During this changing process innovators must bring the rest of us along with them, mitigating the disruptive impact of innovation and ensuring the benefits are adequately shared.
But if innovators fail or push ahead too fast, the conservatives will fight them back suppressing more the independent and novel thinking of a new paradigm for living, and so the cycle/loop will start again.
Accordingly, in this endless feedback loop traditionalists need to be seen just as an evolutionary force that drives innovators to become smarter and more creative, by producing more innovative ideas for the society. And vice versa, innovators need to be seen as an evolutionary force that drives traditionalists to find and engineer better ways to fight back innovators in order to protect the society from them (potential danger, fear, fight, survival of the species).
In the end, during this endless puzzle game seen as an endless feedback loop, they both co-evolve (human learning for creativity and survival mechanisms) and while they both want exactly the same thing — the good society and the survival of the fittest — they disagree continuously on whether change or stagnation (cultural and technological) is the best thing for our society.
Studies of identical twins separated at birth indicated that innovator's ability to think creatively and differently comes one-third from its genes, but two-thirds of the innovation skill set comes through learning (environment).
What this suggests is that, while our genes push many of us to be pioneers and innovative thinkers, those individual efforts can only have a significant impact on society as a whole if there are network mechanisms that connect all pioneers in order to amplify their message and knowledge in the society.
Basically, innovation is in our genes but the networks (environment, ecosystem) nurture it
(Source: “Innovation - it's in our genes, and nurtured by networks” by Phil Wainewright).
Hopefully, since the innovative spirit is buried in our genes that implies that is never going to be completely extinguished from our societies, but if the network mechanisms that allow the innovative spirit to flourish are disrupted it can be put on pause (“Don't feed the trolls”).
In other words, pioneers are genetically predisposed to create crazy novel ideas eternally or as long as this planet is alive, but when their information flow networks just pause to exist or function properly, pioneers might get burnt at the stake like in the past (Dark Ages and burning of witches).
In this context, conservatives are also genetically predisposed to protect the status quo (survival of the species) and through their network mechanisms suppress independent thinking.
"Status quo, you know, is Latin for 'the mess we're in". Ronald Reagan
But hopefully, the era of the witch-hunt is over (off course it remains to be seen what the traditionalists will come up this time), while our information flow networks are growing stronger and stronger every day becoming now collective digital brains (a collective brain, seen as a virtual space or a cloud where all spreading ideas converge across an entire social system, the earth).
But let’s see now what “kind of DNA” an innovator must have.
According to a Harvard Business Review by Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen, innovators are individuals that all share the following 5 discovery skills (The Innovator’s DNA):
Discovery Skill 1: Connect seemingly unrelated questions
Connecting, associating or the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields is a master discovery skill for all our innovators.
In fact, creativity is connecting things.
To grasp how associating and connecting works, it is important to understand how the brain operates.
Our brain doesn’t store information like a dictionary, instead, it associates the word “ABCD” with any number of experiences (for example ten different experiences) from our world.
And that exactly is the definition of meaning or understanding of something, namely a process of comparison inside our brain. In other words, “meaning” is a comparison that our brain makes when we look at something and we match it with something else from our database, inside our brain.
Accordingly, the meaning of the word ABCD is the perception of ABCD relative to something else like ABCDEF, and therefore is subjective and personalised depending from the number of experiences each of us had so far (six: ABCDEF, ten: A B C D E F G H I J or twenty: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T or more experiences).
So, the more diverse our experience and knowledge (let's call that information stored in our brain) the more connections the brain can make between the different pools of information we have (let’s call that personalised meaning), as a result we can make novel associations (novel ideas).
In the end, associating is just like a mental muscle that can grow stronger by using also the other discovery skills.
Discovery Skill 2: Questioning
Questioning the unquestionable can serve as a catalyst for out-of-the-box thinking and innovation.
In fact, most of the times is not the answer or the solution to a problem that is important but the initial question.
For example: “why ABCD is red” or “why do we have two eyes”?
Questions like these, train our brain to think out of the ordinary way our society thinks by just accepting that “ABCD is just red” or “normality is having two eyes”.
As a matter of fact, the Tuatara, a lizard like reptile that lives only in New Zealand, has three "eyes"! In addition, the parietal eye, also known as a third eye or pineal eye, is a part of the epithalamus present in some species of fish, amphibians and reptiles. In particular, this third eye located at the top of the head, is photoreceptive and is associated with the pineal gland, regulating circadian rhythmicity and hormone production for thermoregulation. That implies in the end, that normality is not having two eyes, but having two eyes is just an option for nature.
Moreover, innovative thinkers have also the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads, without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other. In other words, innovators look at the world with two eyes, but accept also the possibility of a third-eye-observation.
And that brings us to the third discovery skill.
Discovery Skill 3: Observing
Observers try all sorts of techniques to see the world in a different light.
Innovators intentionally and consistently look out for small behavioural details — in all activities of humans (and other companies/competitors)— in order to gain insights about new ways of doing things, and that is the data collection process in order to store more information in our brain, and make eventually more associations and connections.
In general, we tend to believe that observation is connected to the five senses, and that it is correct. But our innovative thinkers tells now that there is a sixth sense, since more and more people believe that "Thought Is a Sense".
The above novel idea would imply, that apart observing the world with two eyes or sensing the world with the five senses, someone can observe the world through his/her thoughts, meaning that the brain is receiving, storing and elaborating information (like a database), but doesn't produce anything of its own unless there is an external stimulus like a novel idea, or more correctly novel external information to be elaborated by the brain.
In fact, Plato once stated (probably going around the corridors of Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world):
“Ideas are the source of all things”.
But apart Plato and the Theory of Ideas, a philosophical theory claiming that "Ideas" (being timeless, absolute and unchangeable) are the non-physical essences of all things, of which objects and matter in the physical world are merely imitations. Many more anthroposophists (anthroposophy is a philosophy that postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world, accessible to human experience) they believe that all universal events, thoughts, words, emotions and intent ever to have occurred in the past, present, or future in terms of all entities and life forms, are encoded in a non-physical plane of existence known as the mental plane, namely the Akashic records.
So far, we had only anecdotal accounts and there is no scientific evidence for the existence of the Akashic records. Apart of course the movie Interstellar and Tesseract, this enormous, hyper-cubic, grid-like structure and a means of communication for the bulk beings that can perceive five dimensions as opposed to four, and that are able to see every moment in the past, present and future.
But can we tell if our innovators have access to the Akashic records or to the Plato's world of ideas? We don’t know for now.
But we do have a cloud now where we store all the information we have, and ABCD can be red or black, while creatures with three or five eyes can be digitally designed.
"Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science; the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction, which is central to everything we have ever done."
Once said the famous American author, Ray Bradbury.
For more watch on Youtube "Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds" a top documentary film (four episodes).
Let's move to the 4th skill of innovation.
Discovery Skill 4: Experimenting
Unlike simply observers, who intensely watch the world, innovators take it one step further by becoming experimenters constructing interactive experiences and try to provoke unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge.
In fact, the world is their laboratory, their company, their movie, their book, their painting and their work of art, where their imagination is finally manifested.
"The true method of knowledge is experiment." William Blake
Believe it or not, a South Korean industrial designer has developed a robotic eyeball he has dubbed "The Third Eye", which the addicted smartphone users can strap to their foreheads. The device opens its translucent eyelid whenever it senses the user's head has been lowered to look at a smartphone, and when the user comes within one to two metres of an obstacle, the device beeps to warn of the impending danger.
Finally, the 5th skill of innovation is about networking.
Discovery Skill 5: Networking
Devoting time and energy to finding and testing ideas through a network of diverse individuals gives innovators a radically different perspective.
Innovators go out of their way to meet people with different kinds of ideas and perspectives to extend their own knowledge domains. To this end, they make a conscious effort to visit other countries and meet people from other walks of life for example saints, Buddhas, yogis, mystics, priests, shamans, philosophers, teachers and seers. Probably, discussing and analysing with them the possibility of having a third eye.
“Creativity takes courage. ” Henri Matisse
At a genetic level, apart a well known positive correlation between creativity and genes associated with dopamine, in a study that was published this year (Evolution of genetic networks for human creativity), a group of researchers searching for the genetic basis for the emergence of creativity in modern humans has found that:
“modern humans have more than 200 unique non-protein-coding genes regulating co-expression of many more protein-coding genes in coordinated networks that underlie their capacities for self-awareness, creativity, prosocial behaviour, and healthy longevity, which are not found in chimpanzees or Neanderthals”.
Until next time,