The Myth of the Individual Innovator

Close your eyes on imagine innovation, and you might be tempted to v
isualize a single inventor, toiling away in a lab day after day until his "aha!" moment.  Except that that is not how innovation happens.  Innovation is inherently collaborative, interdisciplinary, and iterative.

Innovation is inherently collaborative, in that ideas form not whole cloth from one person but from the interplay between multiple people.  Furthermore, as much as technology has shrunk the world, intellectual breakthrough usually happens when people bounce ideas off each other in person.

Innovation is inherently interdisciplinary, in that the more diverse are the perspectives of the people bouncing ideas off each other, the more likely something that has never been imagined before can be borne into existence.  This is the power of diversity: the fact that I don't come to the table from the same perspective as you is precisely what will allow me to help you be better within your perspective.

Innovation is inherently iterative, in that the breakthrough never happens on the first try or even the second or the tenth.  Try hundreds of tries.  Which means hundreds of failures.  Which means avoidance of failure is equivalent to avoidance of progress.

We know how innovation happens, and yet we continue to ignore the importance of people being close together, people being different from one another, and people being ok with failure.  This has profound consequences for how we organize our schools, our cities, and our economies.  We can do better.  The future is counting on us.

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