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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

Jared Diamond won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Guns, Germs and Steel. In it Diamond describes one of the key principles of innovation: technology begets technology.

Using examples of neighbouring New Guinean, North American Indian, and Mexican Indian tribes, he shows that there’s really no way to show why one group successfully adopts innovation where another does not. Similarly, he shows how Chinese and Islamic societies once led but now follow in technological progress. The key is that innovation seems to be nearly random.

Diamond explains that copying and “blueprint” innovation often leads to innovation of greater importance than the earlier invention. Consider examples such as the steam engine “invented” by James Watt (1769) but built on the inventions of Thomas Newcomen (1712), Thomas Savery (1698), and Denis Papin (1680). Or Edison’s incandescent light which improved on the many patents of others preceding it. Or even the Wright brother’s airplane which was preceded by Otto Lilienthal’s and Samuel Langley’s innovations.

William Gibbson has said that the future is here but just unevenly distributed. The trick is to find it.

If one of the banes of the internet is the overwhelming volume of information then one of the boons is the almost unlimited access the information around the world. It’s important to synch that reality with the understanding that someone is always innovating and the challenge is to find out who it is.

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