April 30, 2022

On the Representation of Innovation

There's this whole category within life. It's like this general wrapper around an entire way of thinking.

On the one hand, you've got survival to think about. For many, that's understandably their primary objective.

And yet, innovation has led us to this very interesting, completely new "category" or "wrapper" of ideas: fields, learning, and information.

I needn't divulge anything you can't guess or haven't read before, but the general idea is that we've innovated our lives enough to the point that survival is generally regarded or considered at a lower level in our consciousness than our activities.

Naturally, everything revolves around our basic needs. Surely, one wouldn't be stressed about their meeting with execs tomorrow if they're having trouble breathing right now.

Still, though, my point that survival—in this "modern" society most of us live in—is generally something we think about only some of the time.

The Chicken or the Egg

Earlier, I made a subtle point that you may have caught. In this paragraph:

And yet, innovation has led us to this very interesting, completely new "category" or "wrapper" of ideas: fields, learning, and information.

Spot it?

Here, I'm suggesting that innovation led us to... innovation.

Let's break this down a little more.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines the word "innovate" as:

make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products

Now, if we can take this abstract concept of "innovation" as "changes over time to something already existing," we can start to see other similar patterns to emerge.

The most obvious is evolution.

Quite some time ago, most fish in the sea were perfectly fine swimming in the ocean. They had no need to develop any "features" to handle the above-the-water environment.

And yet, at some point, enough fish had came out of the sea—by chance or by choice—who suddenly needed the tools to handle the uninhabitable environment.

Clearly, some subtle, low-key, uncontrollable, and uninitiated innovations needed to take place for me to be typing this and you to be reading this—not to mention the very beginning of land animals in the first place!

Can we, by extension, go so far to say that innovation is ingrained within us? Do we naturally incite progress?

Well, the answer, in my opinion, is not so simple.

The Roots

I'd say, at a high-level, we all have the capability for innovation. This should be obvious.

Let's go through a really boring, but completely necessary example.

If you have had a large box in your hallway for some time (perhaps you rarely leave your room?), you may come to find that it's quite a disturbance. Damn, lifting your legs and all, that's inefficient.

What's the solution? Well, to innovate!

It's a very simple, multi-step process:

First, you bend down. Make sure to go slow, or else you might expend too much energy.

Second, you take those strong arms of yours and you grasp the two sides of the box. If you're facing North, you'd attach your arms on the East and West. If the box is not a box, but a different shape, go back to step one. Eventually, as you'll find, you can't bend down anymore, and you won't need to step over the box ever again.

Third, you'll add some force and grip to your arms, to be able to handle and lift the weight.

Fourth, you'll bend up, lifting the box. If the box is too heavy, go back to step 1.

Fifth, you'll begin walking to some other, out of place location.

Sixth, you shall set the box down, removing your grip.

Seventh, you may now walk through the hallway freely.


This elaborate description of picking up boxes is completely unnecessary. It does highlight, however, in an abstract way, the different mini-innovations that needed to take place in order for the much larger one to occur.

This is what I like to call "Exponential Innovations."

Your arms don't normally grip things on the sides in the way you would when picking up a box. The established behavior is to rest at your side or in some other area—only becoming active by exception.

We see now that even something simple like moving a box can contain within it a multitude of mini disturbances to "the way things are."

Indeed, I like to call them "disturbances," as that is all they really are. Every breath you take probably affects, at minimum, an undecillion amount of atoms. The amount of information that the Reality Engine is processing is understandably impossible to visualize.

I call them "disturbances" mostly for the reason that you cannot do anything without changing something.

So... Is It Ingrained?

It depends on what you mean by "it."

Fundamentally, the very act of existence means disturbance, depending on how you look at it.

You simply cannot do anything (and "anything" includes "nothing" which in and of itself is something) without disturbing the natural course of things. You are, more or less, constantly changing things—constantly making your own mini innovations.

This. The very act of disturbance to "the way things are" is indeed ingrained. It cannot be otherwise. If you don't want to make a difference, well, you shouldn't have come into being in the first place.

Scaling Up

When we start to view all of these grandiose innovations (you know, the "brand-name" innovations) in this way, we notice that they are clearly not some single act in and of themselves, but some general umbrella terms which cover an uncountable number of disturbances.

So, then, what does it take to truly innovate? Can it be done alone?

No, it can't be. Even if we were stripped naked, void of any tools, personal items, etc., and thrown into some far-away island, we'd still be innovating based on what Mother Nature has built. Mother Nature, even, has to build upon the Earth, and the Earth from the Universe, and so on.

In effect, we cannot create something truly original, truly from-the-singularity, truly innovational.

Still, this makes no active difference. Innovations are constant and consistent, and we attribute their grandeur to their creators.

Yet we often fail to attribute much of the underlying structure to the probably uncountable number of innovations that other people and things have made.

Steve Jobs was (almost) undeniably innovational—but he did not do it alone.

How Does Innovation Happen?

Hmm... well, I don't know. How would you describe it?

To make it easier, let's... well, innovate!

To begin, we've got to add information about the innovation itself. You know, standard stuff: the title, the author, and so on.

Collectively, this Innovation object, containing all the properties listed above, can be thought of as "The Metadata of an Innovation."

Most people don't actively see it, but it is fundamental.

This pattern is obvious.

The end-user of Google, for instance, has absolutely no idea that Python handles a large part of Google's infrastructure. They have no need to know this.

In the same way, people reading about innovations such as the telegram have no need to understand everything that came before it—wires, relays (repeaters), and so on.

But why? Why does this metadata exist? If essentially nobody needs to know, then why do we have it?

So that other innovations can take place.


To begin the construction of an Innovation, let us first create an object. Why not? I'm a programmer, after all.

If you don't program, an object (in this context) can be thought of as an instruction—a recipe, if you will. It contains everything we need for an Innovation.

One must note that the metadata is not a part of the innovation itself. It's off to the side.

The basic structure is a named object with no properties:

interface Innovation {

}

but what goes inside?

Surely, we'll assume a constant value containing all the necessary innovations that took place before our innovation—and the ones that took place before that one, and the ones before that one, and so on: all the way down to the very atomic substance of existence and being itself. Collectively, the "dependencies" of our innovation.

We can update our object accordingly:

interface Innovation {
    dependencies: Innovation[];
}

See that! Innovations are built upon a series of other innovations!

Let's get back to it.

In addition, we mustn't forget the plan for the innovation itself—the code.

Can we call it an "objective?" Perhaps so. But what's an objective? How would you define it?

In an effort to avoid getting into abstract programming, we'll say the objective is just a string—a sentence of description.

(I know, I'm mixing TS with pseudocode, don't mind)

interface Innovation {
    dependencies: Innovation[];
    objective: string;
}

The objective (the code) is useless, however, unless we execute it.

interface Innovation {
    dependencies: Innovation[];
    
}

class MyInnovation extends Innovation {
	// the magic here...
}

MyInnovation();

If you'll step outside with me for a moment—outside of the box, that is—we can see that an Innovation isn't simply a "description" or a way of doing something. It's the thing having been done itself. It builds upon its dependencies and, yeah, sure, it has an objective and all, but the object is useless unless you implement it.

An "innovation," therefore, is something that has happened, which follows the basic structure we've identified.

Fundamental Building Blocks

I've demonstrated that we must always build upon something. Stripped, even, of our most basic resources, we are still left with the colorful canvas that Mother Nature has left us.

To do anything, we must understand what we are building upon first.

The 30-second elevator pitch from a Canadian Teacher about an innovation in web technology he knows nothing about... yeah, he likely won't get too far.

But wait a minute... That's really important.

Can you spot it? What in the above paragraph is essential here?

External Information

The fact that he knows nothing about it! Well, more or less.

I'd agree that any successful innovation must be precisely built upon the things it depends on. After all, building a stone structure on a series of water innovations will not work. You must understand what you're building upon.

BUT!

The key here is that this fictional Canadian is bringing in external information. Unlike the many students who've all been taught the same materials in tech over the last 20 years (it's all the same, only the names have changed), this Canadian has an opportunity to innovate precisely because he offers knowledge in a completely unrelated field.

You can have a child, raise them to become a perfect software engineer, knowing the ins-and-outs of the most complex languages, and they'll be great, sure. They'll do the tasks they are assigned to, and nobody ever really complains.

But this individual is unlikely to innovate. They're unlikely to disturb the status quo and create something truly innovational.

This is something I think everybody needs to learn. You can spend hundreds of hours analyzing your years of knowledge in one field, but you may never find the "truly original" idea you're looking for—precisely because you're looking in the wrong place.

It Doesn't Take An Expert

Many people seem to have the idea that innovation takes place in the manner opposite to that of which I proposed in the previous section.

This makes sense at a surface-level.

"You mean to tell me that you, with precisely 0 years of experience in this field, knows how to do something better than me, with 30 years of experience?"

That answer can often be "yes," if you apply it correctly.

You must bring in something new, something fresh, something nobody else has thought of to truly innovate.

You must step outside the boundaries of that which you've been taught. Understand what you're building upon, most definitely, but don't become restricted by it.

It's Practical

I could go on to list an uncountable number of innovations that took place precisely because the person who initiated it brought in some external knowledge.

The most obvious are the great polymaths of our history. Archimedes, Da Vinci, Tesla, and so many more.

These people innovate because they see things nobody else sees.

But don't be sad if you don't see it. This entire writing has built up to this simple point: You don't have to be born with some exceptional ability to see things, by default, that nobody else sees. Indeed, the very act of noticing hidden meanings is to become aware of their existence at a fundamental level—to step into a new field, a new way of looking at things and to identify and see in the way the field sees.

That is, to literally start taking pieces of the things you've learned and apply it to where it's not meant to be applied.

In general, literally "life hacking," in its most basic form.

That is, taking something ordinary, and making it do something extraordinary.

Thanks for reading.

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