Smart World. Breakthough creativity and the new science of ideas
by Richard Ogle
review by Riccardo Paterni
How do breakthrough ideas, products, services come to live? What is the real contribution of the so called ‘geniuses’ to the process? How does our mind process information and reality in order to come up with novel ideas? This book presents, in an original and articulated fashion, possible intriguing answers to these and many other questions regarding the way we develop creativity and innovation. The author calls it ‘the new science of ideas’ and step by step, through an entertaining narrative focusing on breakthroughs in several fields (some of them: the discovery of DNA, Picasso’s cubism, microcomputers and the development of Apple, Gutemberg’s development of large scale typeset printing), outlines a Model relevant to this ‘new science’. A Model very useful to frame, conceptualize and learn from the dynamics that developed such breakthroughs; it is also helpful to recognize and stimulate the development of novel ones. The structure of the Model is composed by three factors: Imagination, Intuition and Insight. The ‘proper interplay’ of these three factors leads to breakthrough creativity. The book focuses on articulating both the nature and essence of such interplay. Let’s unfold these dynamics by focusing on each component of the Model.
First of all the author (Richard Ogle, an independent scholar, consultant and entrepreneur) introduces the concept of idea-space “an idea-space is a domain or world viewed from the perspective of the intelligence embedded in it”. In other words an idea-space is a mix of concepts, rules, experiences and practices defining a certain kind of field and the way that such field works most effectively. For example any subject (math or literature) represents a specific idea-space. Depending on our profession we deal with simple or more complex idea-spaces on a daily basis. A key aspect that Ogle points out with his examples is the nature of the embedded intelligence within an idea-space: this form of intelligence does not simply depend on one person (one expert, one genius), it depends from the integration of several experiences and practices by several people. Ogle relates this observation to Andy Clark’s concept of the ‘extended mind’, in other words the realization that in our daily activities (as well as in the creative process) we utilize intelligence that it has become part of the knowledge available within the idea-space we are operating within, intelligence not direcly developed by us. The title of the book “Smart World” points out this very practical observation too often overlooked. Idea-spaces and the intelligence embedded within them make us smarter but at the same time also they potentially risk to blind us; to blind our full view of reality with its obstacles and its opportunities. As the author puts it: “Einstein observed, ‘The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them’. Clearly, Einstein grasped the paradoxical power of idea-spaces dense with accumulated intelligence to both empower and blind us”. Within the Model, Imagination is what overrides the blind spots generated by an idea-space by linking idea-spaces that previously were unconnected and helping us to perceive and deal with reality in a novel way. This is the reason why we observe that a breakthrough is not caused by a sequential, linear sort of thinking but by a disconnected and disrupting one (shifting through and linking previously unconnected idea-spaces). In other words we talk about a creative leap of innovation vs an incremental one.
This is the second key component to the Model. Intuition is relevant to the way we recognize patterns and relationships within a set of elements belonging to previously unconnected idea-spaces. The cases presented by Ogle clearly show that any real breakthrough depends upon the utilization of such pattern recognition in order to interconnect embedded intelligence from an idea-space to a different one. What works in an idea-space is going to work also in a different one if through imagination we are to connect them and through intuition we can identify similar internal dynamics among elements that can have a totally different nature: this potentially can generate a new idea-space in itself; Ogle writes: “Intuition is our navigational system for exploring novel idea-spaces”.
This is sequentially the third key component to the Model. Ogle intruduces the concept: “Working together, intuition and imagination give rise to insight, the quintessential phenomenon of breakthrough creativity (...) imagination, guided by the pattern-recognizing powers of intuition, boldly jumps across intervening space to connect to whole new networks of meaning”. Insight is what clearly manifests the breakthrough by shifting the networking process among idea-spaces from complexity to simplicity, from disorder to order. This way a new meaning is created and creativity takes shape into something novel that is quite understandable also from outside of the embedded intelligence that developed it. The author argues these dynamics are generated by a set of principles related to the networks science (in itself a quite novel idea-space developed in order to understand the nature of the close and remote interconnectedness among people, systems and ideas). As Ogle puts it: “Smart World claims that the right place to look for laws governing creative leaps is in network science, whose newly discovered principles drive the dynamics of the extended mind’s component idea-spaces.” The author draws from these principles to present a set of self-organizing laws fueling the shifts from simplicity to complexity and from disorder to order; specifically nine laws: 1) the law of tipping points, 2) the law of the fit get rich, 3) the law of the fit get fitter, 4) the law of spontaneous generation, 5) the law of navigation, 6) the law of hotspots, 7) the law of small worlds network, 8) the law of integration, 9) the law of minimal effort. The book articulates and exemplifies in detail the nature and flow of each law and these observations allow for the identification of a set of practical principles that according to Ogle we could all utilize in order to find our very own breakthrough. He writes: “Above all, trust your imaginative faculties as they surf embedded webs of intelligence near and far, and have the confidence that if your’re up for the ride, the space of ideas, shaped by the laws of network dynamics, will do most of the hard thinking for you”.
I consider the thesis presented by “Smart World” timely, intriguing and stimulating. The book is an invitation and a roadmap to tap into the global potential to better understand and give meaning to the reality we face; the invitation comes with a set of tools that we can choose to put to work in order to improve our reality through a real, focused and resourceful imagination. Are we up for the challenge?
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