Steven Johnson, author of the book “Where Good Ideas Come From”, recently gave a lecture on the spaces where ideas are exchanged. Looking at environments where ideas are born, but more importantly expanded upon, Johnson explains the relevance of the 17th century English coffee-house to intellectuals living at the time.
“It was a space where people would get together from different fields of expertise and their ideas could have sex. This was their conjugal bed in a sense.”
In these coffee houses, people would ponder of thoughts which they had incubating in their minds. Like most ideas, they took time to percolate through each step of the thinking process. They needed to be nurtured as well as analysed from another perspective until you were able to reach that “Eureka!” moment.
The coffee shop not only gave the population an alternative to alcohol, as the water was undrinkable at the time, but also allowed for ideas to flow through conversation with others.
It was only once these individuals spoke about their thoughts and ideas in a sober state, did they then evolve to become something worthy of pursuit. In the space it took for the culture of the coffee-house to spread throughout Europe, so did the churning out of a new ideas or inventions at an amplified rate. This ultimately led to the period of the industrial revolution, which changed our world forever.
Ideas are generated through collaboration
Today, corporate ideas rarely happen while you are sitting in your cubical. They mostly are conceptualised around the boardroom in meetings whilst people are bouncing their thoughts off one another. Social media is the most recent step humanity has taken in the evolution of communication and has become the most efficient way to advertise our thoughts. Much like our forefathers gathered in a circle discussing the best watering holes and predator spotting, social platforms have become the mutual campfire where ideas and thoughts are shared just as easily. The difference is that these ideas travel over continents, to millions of people at digital speeds.
The watering holes have becoming the latest social event posted on a Facebook Page, and predator watch have evolved into characters such as @pigspotter on Twitter, keeping us aware of the latest accident or road block set up by the Metro police.
Now you might assume that Twitter is mainly dominated by irrelevant subject matter which ultimately contributes to the breakdown of critical thinking. However, research has shown that this is simply not the case. Trending topics from the last few years included the Arab Spring, Wikileaks, the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the Kyoto Protocol. The power of social media is evident in the fact that it can mobilize people effectively through the right mediums of communication.
Your country might not need a revolution like the ones we saw in the Arab Spring, but what you can do is use social media to disseminate and frame pressing issues effectively. We are all citizen reporters with the power to make a story go viral. We can use social mediums to address issues such as crime and unemployment in whatever country it is we live in.
A good example would be a Twitter account which acts as a live community policing forum. The account would allow users to tweet a crime incidence or concerns facing their community. This will then educate the appropriate authorities and the community to work in tandem and act accordingly. What better way for a police commissioner to engage with the public on the problems facing communities whilst simultaneously breaking down the barriers set up by previous regimes?
The media industry is by far the most progressive in terms of the rate at which new ideas flow. This can be attributed to the fact that while patents on tangible goods such as the coding of software or new technology can be framed and done successfully, the process of patenting ideas seem harder to master. When Yahoo! threatened to sue Facebook for patent violation (the two companies later settled their differences), Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s response to this was, “Getting there first is not what it’s all about.” How true does Zuckerberg’s statement resonate.
The next step
There is a lot of Darwinism in the evolution of the internet. MySpace and Yahoo! were the primordial soup that spawned the idea of social media and networking; Twitter and Google have become the new complex organisms adapted to the world’s current climate. Because this space is always evolving there is always “the next step”. The question is which organizations and individuals can adapt, and which are left fondling the rim of their coffee cup in the corner of the cafe.
But what does this mean to the individual?
Pondering Panda is a consumer insights company that uses the connectedness of mobile & digital technology to find out what people think about issues surrounding them.
It has set a new South African record, having successfully completed more than one million interviews using cell phone technology in just over six months. This kind of information points to only one fact — that we as humans have an urge for our opinions to be heard, regardless of how insignificant they might be.
Butch Rice, co-founder of Pondering Panda, says: “In all my years in marketing research I would not have dreamed it possible to conduct so many interviews in such a short space of time. I think that this is due to the eagerness of South Africans of all ages, but particularly young South Africans, to voice their opinions.”
I am not going to predict the future of social networking. But one thing for sure is that the progression of society and innovation will be magnified. What is crucial however is that companies and organisations utilise these tools here and now, because with this steady progression in the exchange of thoughts and ideas, so to will the pace of which corporate needs to keep up.
Steven Johnson once said, “Chance favors the connected mind.” Social networking platforms have undoubtedly become the coffee houses of our time. So let’s connect, drink up and amplify the progression of the human race.