It Takes a Village to Raise an Idea

by Dave Duarte

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. 

I went to a talk by Capitec founder Jannie Mouton a few weeks ago, where he pointed out that trying to predict what markets will do in the short term is a suckers game. The only way to win is to focus on value and develop a CAPABILITY to understand and adapt to change. 

So what one thing can you do to increase your digital capability? 

It takes a generation to make a significant difference to the world

Many technological breakthroughs come out of communities of exploration - at universities that bring brilliant people together; cities like San Franscisco; and Cape Town with a vibrant tech culture, or from people who fall into a sub-culture that values innovation (like Silicon Cape or #tabletoptuesday). And inventors build on a set of existing technologies and norms. Change happens at the pace of cultural readiness for it.

The 2500 year old Antikythera mechanism

The 2500 year old Antikythera mechanism

This is why the 2500 year old computer didn’t take off at the time. There wasn’t an ecosystem for it - an active community of distributors, inventors, hackers, users, supply chains. Change happens at the pace of cultural readiness. Cultural readiness is about the tools we use, the skills we have.

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. It's got us to where we are, but what will get us to where we need to be next? 

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. 

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. 

The difference between thinking about a cool invention, and actually inventing it is 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. 

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. 

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. 

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 digitally oriented community. Go to Silicon Cape Meetups, attend the Kat-O meetups, or apply to join the Treeshake Expert Network.