I wrote this back in 2016 and still read it every few months.
I had a boss in a previous life who was always keen for us to share. “If you find out something interesting — I want to see and hear you share it”.
I did my best but occasionally I would sit on a piece of information because I didn’t really have time to figure out how to share it with the wider team. “I’ll get to it soon” I would tell myself. A lot of the time I did not. But how beneficial is sharing as opposed to devoting your time to working and innovating? I happened across an interesting model based around a similar question, put forward by Evolutionary Biologist Joseph Henrich. Let’s think about two groups of people.
There is a twist though. Humans don’t necessarily always acquire new inventions by engineering an innovation all on their own. They acquire them by learning. In this regard, the Engineers are at a distinct disadvantage. Each Engineer will only share a new development with one other Engineer. Sharers on the other hand like to chat and will share a new development with ten other Sharers. They are 10x more social than the Engineers. Let me just boil that down: Engineers are 100x more innovative; Sharers are 10x more social.
Learning from someone else isn’t easy though, so let’s assume that in both groups, if an innovation is shared, it sticks only 50% of the time. Which of these groups do you think will end up more ‘advanced’ — at least from a technological innovation perspective? Let’s look at the Engineers first. It turns out that over time, a particular innovation will spread to 18% of the Engineers. Not too bad. 50% of them figured it out for themselves and the remaining 50% learned from another Engineer.
Now let’s look at the Sharers. They’ve flourished. 99.9% of them have the innovation, even though only 0.1% of them discovered it for themselves.
If both of those groups are human tribes and the innovation we are talking about is a bow and arrow, whose side would you rather be on?
This elegant idea goes a long way to explain human cultural and technical development. In Henrich’s words, “if you want cool technology, it is better to be social than to be smart”.
Of course my original question is a little oversimplified: the best situation would be a group of smart engineers who are willing and able to share. So what can we do to enable this? The level of inter-connectedness globally has skyrocketed over the last 25 years, which I believe, goes a long way to help explain the level of technological growth we have witnessed and the even more impressive growth we are probably about to witness. It is much easier to share with motivated individuals now than ever before. But there is still room for improvement: plenty. And if we can make sharing easier, specifically new knowledge and information, then it stands to reason that technical development can occur more quickly and a wider group of people can benefit. This counts for our personal and professional lives but also for the world at large. Remember:
If you want cool technology, it is better to be social than to be smart.
So why do we still struggle in terms of sharing? These seven areas come to mind to start with. All seven can refer to ‘local’ difficulties that might impact us professionally or personally, or they can refer to more global difficulties that are hampering our efforts as a species:
Is enough being done to help overcome these difficulties? Do they represent decent business opportunities? Are they worth investing in? Here is my guess: some, yes and yes. When you frame the problem in terms of the value of sharing as I did earlier, it seems like a no-brainer that more could and should be done as the long-term value is there.
I wrote this back in 2016. Possibly a different era, but I think the point remains the same.
I was reading the frankly excellent “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler recently and came across an interesting statistic that I thought worth sharing.
As of April 2008, the combined number of hours spent creating and editing Wikipedia came to 100 million. 100 million hours of effort from millions of contributors to create a repository of human knowledge pretty much unmatched by anything else — arguably in terms of quality and accessibility. As a reflection of human thought and knowledge it is pretty dependable (just ask Watson).
That was almost 8 years ago and I’m sure the number of hours put into it has grown substantially. The actual stats are hard to come by but my back-of-an-envelope estimation puts it at just over 1.2 billion hours. That seems at first to be a huge number, but is it really?
I thought it would be fun to point out a few comparisons.
Just think what might be accomplished if we managed to redirect some of that time, energy and focus on other projects.
Last week I logged into one of my favourite applications, I was presented with a notification that asked me if I wanted to leave a review of the app in the Google Play Store. Without even thinking, I quickly dismissed it by hitting the maybe later button. Immediately afterwards, I started thinking, which is often a dangerous thing, but in this occasion I think we’re OK. I'm a fan of the company, a fan of what they are trying to build and a fan of the application itself. And yet I quickly dismissed the notification. Why? And more importantly, would there be a way to increase the likelihood of my engagement there? If we could increase engagement in this small area, what would this mean for their referrals and their business?
The gender pay gap has been on show - literally - recently, as companies above 250 employees have to report on their gender pay gap data.
This has laid bare the disparity in pay between men and women for organisations. Cue unconscious bias training to solve the problem. The question is, are the methods currently employed to fight things like bias in recruitment and pay, actually working?