Fantastic insights in this Business Insider piece:
Your Start-Up Isn’t Unique, But That Doesn’t Matter
I’m a huge fan of Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix series. If you haven’t watched the first three installments, you can (and should) do so here.The series lays out the persuasive case that big, important breakthroughs in science and technology are emergent phenomenon. That is, they arise organically out of our collective, cumulative knowledge. An “invention” is simply a historically demarcated tipping point on a continuous path of progress.
Fittingly, Furguson isn’t the first to point this out.
Henry Ford said:
Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the greatest forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense.
And long before Ford, the 18th century mathematician Farkas Bolyai vividly observed:
When the time is ripe for certain things, they appear at different places in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.
One of the remarkable implications of this theory of invention is that it de-emphasizes the individual innovator. Not only are notable inventors standing on the shoulders of those who came before, but even their particular contributions are often made by others simultaneously: Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray patented the telephone on the same day; Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace independently advanced a theory of evolution; and Isaac Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and others have all been credited with inventing calculus.