How we got to now – A message from Menno

Menno van Dijk
Article by: Menno van Dijk
How we got to now – A message from Menno

Dear all,


I just read this beautiful book How We Got To Now – Six Innovations That Made The Modern World, by Steven Johnson. In the book, Johnson explores the history of innovation over centuries, tracing the development of some key technologies from their creation by hobbyists, amateurs and entrepreneurs to their unexpected connections and unintended historical consequences.


The book is filled with surprising and unforgettable stories of some key inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs of human history. It is also rich in innovation insights, including: the power of innovation hubs and networks of ideas, the phenomenon of multiple invention, the slow hunch, the accidental discovery, the power of analogies, the value of free access to IP, the relevance of path dependency and serendipity, the value of combining crowd-sourced ideation with excellence in execution, and the opportunity to apply new technology for social impact.


What’s more, the book ends with a special gift: a synthesized perspective that makes such perfect sense and describes the exact reason for being at THNK.

How We Got to Now - a message from Menno 2
The book 'How we got to now' by Steven Johnson explores the history of innovation over centuries, tracing the development of some key technologies from their creation their unexpected connections and unintended historical consequences. Click To Tweet

Quoting straight from the final pages – I hope with permission:

 “Most important innovations – in modern times at least – arrive in clusters of simultaneous discovery.  But if simultaneous is the rule, what about the exceptions. Most innovation happens in the present sense of the adjacent possible with the tools and concepts that are available at the time, but every now and then, some individual or group makes a leap that seems almost like time traveling. How do they do it?

 If there is a common thread to the time travelers, beyond the non-explanation of genius, it is this: they worked at the margins of their official fields, or at the intersection point between very different disciplines. 

Disciplinary boundaries can serve as blinders, keeping you from the bigger idea that becomes visible only when you cross those borders.  Sometimes these borders are literal, geographic ones.  Sometimes the boundaries are conceptual.   

Time travelers tend as a group to have a lot of hobbies. They are unusually adept at intercrossing different fields of expertise. And this is the beauty of the hobbyist: it is generally easier to mix different intellectual fields when you have a whole array of them littering your study or your garage.

One of the reasons garages have become such an emblem of the innovator’s workspace is precisely because they exist outside the traditional spaces of work or research. They are not office cubicles or university labs; they are places away from work and school, places where your peripheral interests have the room to grow and evolve. Experts head off to their corner offices and lecture halls. The garage is the space for the hacker, the tinker, the maker. The garage is not defined by a single field or industry: it is defined by the eclectic interests of its inhabitants.  It is a space where intellectual networks converge. 

In his famous Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs told several stories about the creative power of stumbling into new experiences, and the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything: “It freed me up to enter one of the most creative periods of my life”. 

If there is anything we know from the history of innovation is that being true to yourself is not enough. Certainly you so not want to be trapped by orthodoxy and conventional wisdom. Certainly you need the tenacity to stick to your hunches for long periods of time. But there is a comparable risk in being true to your own sense of identity, your own roots. Better to challenge your intuitions, explore uncharted terrain, both literal and figurative. Better to make new connections than remain comfortably situated in the same routine. If you want to improve the world slightly, you need focus and determination; you need to stay within the confines of a field and open the new doors in the adjacent possible one at a time.

But if you want to have an ‘intuitive perception of hidden things’ – well in that case you need to get a little lost.”

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To challenge your intuition or to develop your intuitive perspective, learn more about THNK’s Executive Leadership Program.