winning with strong ideas

The Natural Selection of Ideas

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The universe is run by natural selection. Selection drives all material progress. – Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle

Ideas, only the strong…

I read an article recently published by a Dr. McCloskey in the Wall Street Journal. The article suggests the prosperity of the 20th century and beyond was primarily due to liberated countries becoming more mature, so the emergence of more ideas. The article quoted Matt Ridley’s “The Rational Optimist”, and the notion that “ideas started having sex.” A free person is is more likely to innovate. The more free people that are innovating, the more ideas come to reality. One innovation compliments the next and suddenly you have an explosion of innovation and subsequently…abundance and prosperity.

There is More to Natural Selection

A novel idea in some respects, old news in others. Most of what Dr. M references is nothing more than natural selection. Instead of referencing the old adage of man descending from monkey, core tenets are applied to technological advances. One of my all time favorite books is “The 80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch. To sum up the book in a few short words, there are certain principles that cannot be ignored throughout the universe. One of them being Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. Koch writes, “the universe is run by natural selection. Selection drives all material progress.” The strong survive and reproduce with the other strong. Failure is the common condition, but the more failures that exist, the more likely there is to be a “winner.” Ideas, businesses, wealth, people, and any other construct we know to be true is not invulnerable to this universal principle.

Conditions Ripe for Change

Another great book which references the same notion to a great degree is “The Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell’s premise is that certain conditions favor those that are available to take advantage of those particular conditions at that given time. There are rarely anomalies, rather just natural selection favoring a particular individual or group of individuals at a particular time. We might also agree that once a favored group takes root, it is likely to last. It may often take quite a disruption or at least a significant change in the conditions of the environment to create a new, more favorable group.

In regards to Dr. M’s primary distinction of liberty being the cause of such prosperity. I might agree that the dawn of the early 20th century allowed more people than ever to foster ideas and execute on them. I might slightly differ on the reason so many innovations could be made. For the first time in the history of the world, more and more people were less concerned about simply surviving on a daily basis. Perhaps this was spurned by an abundance of free people. Or rather, maybe a few innovations here and there created a construct in which people could have their basic needs met. In turn this allowed them to focus on being creative and innovative. Its amazing what you can do when you aren’t foraging and hunting for food all day, although sometimes I still find myself doing that.

Thanks for reading.


Russel "The Backboard"

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