Looking for a Few Good Ideas?

The emerging mantra is that innovation is combination. The idea behind this mantra is that better ways of understanding things (including designing, manufacturing and distributing the tools to do stuff) emerge from using tools from other disciplines.

It is one of Greg Satell’s constant refrains and he  puts this rather well in his post about Darwin

Darwin’s experiences on The Beagle weren’t limited to first-hand observations alone. The long journey also gave him ample time to read. One book in particular that influenced him was  Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which described the new theory that helped Darwin interpret his observations of seashells on mountaintops.

Another crucial influence came after he returned to England and encountered an essay by Thomas Malthus, which described how populations grow faster than the means to support them. It was that essay that formed the final piece to the puzzle of what became Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

If, as Lyell had suggested, the world was constantly changing and, as Malthus had shown, there was always more life than means to support it, then there must be constant competition for survival. Under these conditions, characteristics favorable to a particular environment would be passed on and those unfavorable would die out.

So Darwin’s theory was, more than anything else, the combination of Lyell’s ideas about geology, Malthus’s observations about population and his own explorations which he had meticulously documented during the voyage. It’s hard to see how Darwin could have come up with his theory without all three elements.

And once Darwin’s idea about natural selection became part of our vocabulary, we have been able to use it in many contexts.

For this reason, I find it odd that our media does not provide front page coverage to stories about what smart people are thinking about. Not about the news of recently discovered stuff, but the news about how folks are thinking. Most important, what tools they are using to combine with their own thoughts. For me, that is important news!

For that reason, I enjoyed reading Wired’s compilation of the ideas from a number of tech “visionaries”. Not because it gave me a chance to “ooo and ahhh” about how smart these folks are (sadly, that is the writing style) but because it gave me a chance to see what ideas they are building from.

Ricardo Craib’s project called “numerai” is of special interest here. Ricardo is building a digital hedge fund that uses algorithms instead of individual thinking to make investments.  That is an old idea. The new thing is to combine another well-known piece of learning — groups learn faster than individuals. So …

… the 29-year-old South African mathematician doesn’t build these algorithms himself. Instead, his fund crowdsources them from thousands of anonymous data scientists who vie for bitcoin rewards by building the most successful trading models.

Cool. But that is not all.

To encourage cooperation, Craib developed Numer­aire, a kind of digital currency that rewards everyone when the fund does well. Data scientists bet Numer­aire on algorithms they think will succeed. When the models work, Numer­aire’s value goes up for everyone.

USV is an investor in numerai and Fred Wilson at USV has posted about numerai on several occasions. It is a cool idea. Not because it is original, but because of how it combines ideas from different areas. And I am looking forward to when other

It is a cool idea. Not because it is original, but because of how it combines ideas from different areas. And I am looking forward to when other fooks start applying what numerai is learning about collaborative investment strategies to better crowd fun.

Don’t think it will hapeen? You might recall that when Google built is search engine, it was a money loser. It was only later on thta Google comined the idea of a serach engine with advertising that Google became one of th erichest companies on the planet. And that in turn, spawned a tsunami of firms trying to leverage web traffic with ad spending.



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