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Two timing innovation

Image: @samodelkin20 on Freepik

Multiple independent invention is surprisingly common — there have been many research studies highlighting the pattern. Examples include the blast furnace (invented independently in China, Europe and Africa) and the crossbow (invented independently in China, Greece, Africa, northern Canada, and the Baltic countries). And they reveal an important home truth about how innovation actually happens. It’s not the Archimedes moment, a flash of inspiration given by the Gods at bath time. Instead it’s a process of hunting, of being open and aware of opportunities as needs and means converge.

The idea of ‘closeness’ is key here — as things mature, knowledge accumulates so we get to a tipping point where something is bound to happen somewhere. Like crystallisation the supersaturated liquid is ready, it just needs the seed — a speck of dust or some other impurity and the crystal starts to form.

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