Two new books seek to explain environments that are most ripe for good ideas. From a recent Wired magazine interview:
Steven Johnson: We share a fascination with the long history of simultaneous invention: cases where several people come up with the same idea at almost exactly the same time. Calculus, the electrical battery, the telephone, the steam engine, the radio—all these groundbreaking innovations were hit upon by multiple inventors working in parallel with no knowledge of one another.
Could we add the college fraternity to this list? Think the Lexington and Miami Triads, the other Virginia fraternities, and the Longwood sororities that were all founded around the same time.
Johnson: At the end of my book, I try to look at that phenomenon systematically. I took roughly 200 crucial innovations from the post-Gutenberg era and figured out how many of them came from individual entrepreneurs or private companies and how many from collaborative networks working outside the market. It turns out that the lone genius entrepreneur has always been a rarity—there’s far more innovation coming out of open, nonmarket networks than we tend to assume.
Good things happen when fraternities collaborate and learn from each other. Even better things can happen when we study non-Greek organizations and draw our own creative parallels.