Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Cross-fertilization: Creating New Innovation Species 

Belonging to a community essentially means sharing a number of common values and being able to communicate with other individuals within that community. Humans are social creatures so they have always been trying to:
a) belong to communities to which they can individually identify
b) create new communities when necessary.
Acting within and through a group is both reassuring and empowering. Through a community we can indeed reinforce certain behaviors by approbation and then act more forcefully.

Metaphors are often useful for simplifying complex concepts such as communities. Here are 2 metaphors that I like to use in understanding communities:
· Filtering system: By approving certain behaviors and inhibiting some others, communities produce a purified output that is then being used as input. This output is made of contributions, beliefs and behaviors and constitutes the common ground of the community. The evolution of a community consists in the evolution of its common ground over time. A closed community is more likely to be constant in its evolution and follow a well-defined direction. An open one is more likely to behave chaotically both in evolution and direction.
· Organism: A common mistake is to look at communities in isolation. Like living organisms, communities interact with their environment by sharing information and members, by merging, by being born and by dying. Hence, societies are ecosystems in which communities interact, fight for survival, and evolve.

Understanding communities is difficult because of their level of complexity, which brings us to try to study them in isolation. This Cartesian approach certainly has value at a micro level but remains incomplete unless we study the macro level as well. It is like trying to understand the human body only by looking at the structure of cells.

I see cross-fertilization as representing the interaction between communities, as being this percentage of “alien” input that keeps a community from stagnation. I think that if we could better understand interaction between communities, it would be much easier to “manage” innovation. I see this field of study as a key to so many social and economical issues that I am amazed to see how little information is available on the subject.

Please let me know if you have some readings to suggest.

Here are three from my Furl archive:

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