The permutations and combinations of innovation

There have only ever been two original written scripts confirmed to have been developed independently across the entire world – in Mesapotamia in around 3100 BC, and in Mesoamerica in around 300 BC.

Every script we see today was developed from the cuneiform script that Hammurabi inscribed his uniform code with. Europe maybe a continent filled with linguistic diversity. Nevertheless, most European languages have adopted the Latin or Greek alphabet, whereas the script for a majority of Indian languages is the Devanagari script, which in turn, trace their origins back to Mesopotamia.

Developing a new written text was so difficult a task, that most civilizations adapted existing scripts to the needs of their language. Innovation, as an independent process is so complex that it is far easier to modify existing inventions than pursue them from scratch. Our scripts also tell us how innovation can seamlessly diffuse across political and geological barriers to disperse across the entire earth in a short period of time.

This also comes to show that pure innovation, where we develop something right from the first principles, is elusive. Even unwittingly, we use the axioms and the inventions of our precursors as a foundation. Before Issac Newton, the first principles of motion weren’t governed by three neatly defined laws. For all his genius, Newton himself admitted to have stood on the shoulders of giants.

Considering most innovation is interconnected, discoveries are easier to find at the intersection of disciplines rather than deeper within the same discipline. The era of super-specialization, where we focussed our PhD and post-doctoral studies on borrowing deeper into narrowly fields has reached its limit. There is a lot more value, in seeing where these disciplines intersect. Blockchains sit at the intersection of accounting, computer science and cryptography, while fields such as sensing, analytics, connectivity, artificial intelligence and even ethics coalesce in an autonomous vehicle.

For time immemorial, the theory of all music is based on 12 distinct notes called the chromatic scale. It is the permutation and combination of these 12 notes, along with silence, that constitute every musical composition – no matter how intricate, simple, melodious or cacophonous.

Inspiration: Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond

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