Tuesday, October 05, 2004

This is utterly brilliant 

From Grant at Anthropology and Economics.

Innovators love innovating. They look at the �road closed� signs posted by culture and drive right through them. They like to crawl into the Platonic cave and say, �that can�t be right.�

Maybe, it�s the sheer excitement of going �where no man has gone before.� Maybe it�s a willful, contrarian, anarchic wish to defy convention. Maybe it�s the sheer pleasure of building a bridge as we go, in real time, with no net, with the clear knowledge that we have no knowledge. This is intellectual weightlessness. It�s an opportunity, for a brief moment, to escape the gravitational pull of culture. For a moment, we exist "out"�of culture, convention, the body, and our minds.

For innovators, this moment is its own reward. I figure this is why Xerox captured so little of the value they created. The egg heads were running the shop, and they were already very nicely compensated. They were the first ones to �think� a Graphical User Interface. Let someone else, at Apple and then still more belatedly, at Microsoft, figure out the details. Let some one else take it to market. And, yes, let someone else reap the �rewards.� The innovator has already taken his or her cut.

I have a test for my proposition. ...Let us canvas the winners of the Nobel prize and give them this choice. They must choose between the moment of their �innovation� and all the credit that came to them as a result of the innovation: riches, prestige and the Nobel prize itself. The additional condition: if they take the Nobel prize, they will be prevented from engaging in innovative thought ever again. We will put a Denver boot on their brain.

I am prepared to bet virtually every winner would turn down the prize for the chance to think again. For someone who has tasted the joys of making stuff up, anything else would be a torment and the end of the great joy of life. Most innovators would innovate for room and board. They are thrilled, and a little surprised, to discover that a university or a corporation is prepared actually to pay them.

�2.2% of the total surplus of the innovation? Great. Put it over there. Got a moment? See, I have this idea��