The incredibly fast spread of Pokemon Go shows how quickly technologies can spread today, and how rapidly they can change behaviour. This makes it increasingly difficult to imagine what the world will be like in 5 years time. How do we keep our skills relevant if we can't see what is coming next?
One of the great enablers of our technological breakthroughs is our educational system’s focus on science, technology, engineering, and maths. We are where we are because of the design of a mega system of human organisation that brings people together to learn. However, knowledge today has an short shelf life. We need to learn, unlearn, and relearn at a faster rate. And I would argue that the current system can't keep pace.
So what will get us to where we need to be next? E-learning and MOOCs certainly provide one answer, but they miss out on the crucial aspects of human relationships that drive much of the value of going to an institution of higher learning. So we have to take into account the idea of a community of practice too.
The pace of change, the amount of information, and the complexity of new technologies are beyond what any individual can keep up with. We cannot process this individually, only collectively.
You think you’re looking for an opportunity, but that opportunity usually comes in the form of a person.
If you need to move fast on a concept, as you usually do in tech, it is extremely beneficial to have a network to draw on that will help you bring your idea to life. And when you have the idea, it’s probably too late to go looking for that person or plug into that network. It's said that luck is when opportunity meets preparedness. But when opportunity comes, it's usually too late to prepare.
We think it’s about lone inventors, when it’s actually about communities that enable those inventors. It takes a village to raise an idea. Individual brilliance is essential, but let’s not forget that those individuals are enabled by context.
Many technological breakthroughs come out of communities of exploration - at universities that bring brilliant people together; cities like San Francisco and Cape Town with a vibrant tech culture; or from people who fall into a sub-culture that values innovation (like Silicon Cape).
Whether in business or politics or science or art, look at the achievers. They didn’t do it alone. They had help. They were part of a scene. They were connected to people who were striving for the same, and they lived in a place and time that inspired their performance.
Get Your Scene Right
The difference between thinking about a cool invention, and actually inventing is partly a matter of convenience. You're more likely to build out your idea if you know people who can help you with advice, skills, funding, and access. This is perhaps why computers didn't take off 2500 years ago when they were first invented. There wasn’t an ecosystem for computers - an active community of distributors, inventors, hackers, users, supply chains.
Being part of a scene of people who are into something enables this convenience. For example, I’m not likely to come up with a cutting edge way to grow crops today if I'm not part of a community that's into things like farming or agritech or biohacking or internet-of-things. I might want a better crop, but I’m not aware of the issues at play, I don’t know the people who could help me develop the solution, I don’t know the people who have the problem I’m trying to solve, don’t have a direct connection to my users.
Genius is a cultural value as much as an individual attribute. If you’re extraordinary at something it’s partly because you were born with some complimentary strengths, but largely because you gained access to resources and support along the way, and were lucky enough that your strengths were valued in the time and place you lived. It is so much easier to be a genius in a smart city than a poor village.
If you want to make a difference, if you want to do something great, stop trying to do it alone.
Trust moves through networks of connected people. Money moves through networks of connected people. Ideas move through networks of connected people. Get connected. Plug into a scene that inspires you, that makes you better. That inspires your best performance.
And if you see someone else in your community breaking through with their ideas and work: celebrate! Know that by being part of that community, you have contributed to their success. If you happen to be that person that breaks through - don’t let it get to your head. You didn’t do it alone. Give back to your scene through mentoring, coaching, investment or contributing your skills.
As a generation, we can be petty about protecting our ideas or we can work together to get behind the people who are making it. We can do what we can to put the world on track to sustainability, harmony with nature, technological brilliance, the eradication of poverty, and the other goals very well worth striving for. Who the hell cares who gets the credit. Let’s get this done, together.
Take-Out: If there's one thing you can do to increase your capability, it's to join and participate in a community dedicated to progress in your field.
This article was originally written for Treeshake