Reasons to be Cheerful

“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”  from Candide by Voltaire

“Cheddar cheese and pickle, the Vincent motorsickle

Slap and tickle

Woody Allen, Dali, Dimitri and Pasquale

balabalabala and Volare

Something nice to study, phoning up a buddy

Being in my nuddy

Saying hokey-dokey, singalonga Smokey

Coming out of chokey

Reasons to be cheerful part 3”  – Ian Dury & the Blockheads

Should I be pessimistic or optimistic about the future?  With global warming, ongoing wars, poverty, financial meltdown and oil slicks, it’s very easy for Dr Disruption to become Dr Doom, but Matt Ridley argues eloquently in The Rational Optimist that there are even more reasons to be cheerful than Ian Dury could come up with.  He makes a cogent case for the continuing improvement and enrichment of human lives through humanity’s collective intelligence.

He uses the example of a hand axe and a (computer) mouse, both roughly the same size, to illustrate the progress humanity has made in a relatively very short period of time.  The main driver of progress has been exchange, of commercial products and more importantly ideas, which when linked to populations with sufficient size and structure to support specialization of skills, brings huge benefits enabling humans to continually develop.  Urbanisation is accelerating this development by creating societies with greater size and specialization.  The author cites some interesting examples of where individual communities have gone backwards, losing skills and technology they once had, when their size shrunk below the level at which they could sustain such specialization – that is, technologies and skills require individuals who specialize, and this becomes impossible when an individual community has too few individuals to sustain this, leading to a loss of knowledge and capabilities which were previously available.   Therefore, one of the most likely triggers of a return to stone age man would be the break up of large communities into small self-dependent groups of humans.

The lesson for innovation is an old one – progress depends on the open exchange of ideas and is fastest when ideas are exchanged within larger communities with multiple skills and specializations.  Or to rephrase, innovation is most successful when you are open to the ideas and contributions of the largest possible community, with the broadest range of skills.  The message is consistent with previous posts – be open, share ideas and think globally if you want to really win!


The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley

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