Taxonomy of innovation spaces

As I've reflected more on Steven Johnson's latest book: Where Good Ideas Come From, I've realized his greatest contribution for me is the possibility of fractal patterns. I'm thrilled that patterns of innovation could replicate at the micro and macro scales in nature as well as human endeavors. The final chapter synthesizes the ground covered by the book into a four quadrant model of Individual/Network and Market/Non-Market combinations. I've been striving to come up with a synthesis that includes the cellular and ecosystemic innovations in addition to human endeavors. Yesterday, I succeeded. Here's a first look at my four quadrant taxonomy of Natural/Contrived and Social/Anti-Social combinations of innovations.

  • Contrived innovations are unique to humans. They require the use of the neocortex which produces our rational thinking. These innovations organize us into institutions and markets which antagonize tribal and networked endeavors.
  • Natural innovations occur throughout all scales of living entities. They evolve into greater diversity, complexity and sustainability. They organize any living forms into tribes and networks which take exception to the premises of institutions and markets. 
  • Anti-social innovations improve the chances of survival of a smaller thing against the impositions of the bigger thing. They battle, fight, attack or compete against the opposition. They cohere internally for safety and strength in numbers while keeping out the disruptive, turbulent and systemic influences. 
  • Social innovations improve the viability, sustainability and resilience of the entire system. These innovation cooperate with the diversity of others. They integrate the disruptive influences into a dynamic balance of continuous and discontinuous changes. 
  • Primal innovations get created without thinking. They naturally emerge from isolated urges to survive and thrive. Primal innovations look out for #1 (anti-social) without regard for context or communities beyond those in close proximity providing safety in numbers.
  • Exceptional innovations get created by the rare few with unusual talents, traits, mutations or adaptations. Their survival is precarious without a massive substrate of supportive mechanisms, reliably routinized activities and non-innovative contributions. These "protections for pinnacle achievements"  operate in closed (anti-social) systems defended against outsiders. 
  • Methodical innovations get created by combinations of thinking and inspirations induced by clever techniques. They come about by working together with a diversity of others who contribute ideas, conflicting viewpoints, critiques and challenges. They serve the larger community by designing to their varied experiences, serving their differentiated needs and responding to their particular requests.
  • Synchronous innovations get created tuning into the flow of right actions, timing, proportions and balance. The emergent phenomenal levels of cooperation and coordination defy what rational thought processes can accomplish. They not only serve the larger community, they are the larger community functioning in sync. 

Most of the books about innovation show how how to function in the methodical space. Books about zen emptiness help us realize the adjacent possible space for synchronous innovation. The concept of wu-wei-wu provokes us to stop striving, become one with our tools and let the result come about by "non-doing doing". We can then flow in tune with the all others diverse endeavors. We won't appear like a flock of birds flying in formation. We will appear like a thriving ecosystem.

Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:

  1. Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
  2. How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
  3. Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
  4. Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
  5. Benefiting from errors (errors)
  6. Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
  7. Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms) 

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