The Biological Roots of Innovation


I've been researching how innovation works within teams and I came across an interesting passage in Michael Michalko's book, Cracking Creativity:

"Their work suggests that genius operates similarly to Darwin's theory of biological evolution. Nature is extraordinarily productive. Nature creates many possibilities through blind "trial and error" and then lets the process of natural selection decide which species survive. In nature, 95 percent of new species fail and die within a short period of time."

This fecundity of nature strikes me as an essential attribute of any team or organization that is trying to spark innovation within their own business. This kind of outrageous productivity is what is necessary. The output of many losers in order to find a winner as an essential attribute of innovation. That means that we need to have teams that swarm in ways that generate a tremendous amount of output - much of which is waste. But don't be fooled, it's not really waste - you have to have it in order to get to the good stuff.


Not many businesses can achieve that kind of creativity, and even fewer can tolerate that amount of risk. It requires a phenomenally high rate of output in order to justify it. It means sifting through literally thousands of wrong answers to find the rare winners. I think we saw this happen in the early days of startups like Google. They were coming out with what seemed like new products nearly every week. They had structured their organization in a way that encouraged and enabled this richness of output. And they reaped the rewards. Most of those early products are long gone. But there are a few big winners that now pretty much own the internet.

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