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The collective brain: where does innovation come from?

by
Anne-Laure Le Cunff
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Often we think of individuals who can be attributed for their work, like Aristotle, Da Vinci, Einstein, etc. But innovation is better understood at the collective level.

Innovation does not happen in isolation

  • Our brains cannot achieve at the individual level without accounting for the successes at the collective level as well
  • Homo sapiens, with bigger brains, need more energy, and we used our big brains to create innovative ways to gain calories more efficiently, and we transmitted that information socially
  • A key difference between our species and others is that we have networked thinking - innovation is caused through the evolution of the collective brain

Three components of innovation

  • Serendipity - most innovations are a result of luck
  • Recombination - combining different elements to come up with something new
  • Incremental improvements - technological improvements that help scale a technology over time

Interconnectedness and innovation

  • The biggest factor that reflects rates of innovation is sociality
  • People need to collaborate to advance, and often highly collaborative groups are more advanced in technologies and innovation
  • The heroic genius of individuals cannot be achieved without work that has been learned from other people before them
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