Quote of the week:

“A rich man is one who isn’t afraid to ask the salesperson to show him something cheaper.” – Jack Benny

What the ancient Greeks can teach us about creativity

Before he became a Professor of Classics at Oxford University, Armand D’Angour worked for his family’s manufacturing business for over a decade. This duality of experiences gave him a unique perspective to think about the origins of innovation. In an essay for the Princeton University Press, D’Angour explores how analyzing  fundamental ancient Greek inventions—like the first alphabet, the concept of democracy, new forms of empirical medicines, and so on—can help foster more creative thinking in today’s environment.  (He also wrote a book on the subject—available here.)

“The Greeks’ accomplishments have sometimes been spoken of as ‘the Greek miracle,’ but they did not achieve their innovations by magic or by accident,” he writes. “They understood what innovation involved and applied themselves to creating the new. Can their manifold experience help us to understand innovation in general? Can we apply the lessons and principles of the distant past to our own projects in order to be more innovative?” He continues: 

“The Greeks were well placed to borrow ideas from nations to their east and west, and one key principle that emerges from the study of ancient innovation is that the new always builds on the old. There is no such thing as truly ‘radical innovation’ i.e. novelty that has no roots in or connections to the past: all innovation is an adaptation of something that already exists. As the philosopher Parmenides (fifth century BC) argued, ‘Nothing comes from nothing’; logically, we cannot have any under­standing of or connection to something that is wholly detached from prior experience. The corollary is that, if one wishes to innovate, one needs to know the background against which one seeks to produce something new.”


Why Jeff Bezos gives himself “permission to wander”

Recently, Jeff Bezos sat down with Lex Fridman for a wide-ranging conversation about entrepreneurship, physics, productivity, and much more. About 20 minutes in, Lex asks: “If you were to study your own brain, introspect, how do you think? What’s your thinking process like?”

Bezos considers the question and responds with a resonant insight about the nature of problem solving. “I honestly don’t know how it works. If I did, I would try to explain it. I know it involves lots of wandering, so when I sit down to work on a problem, I know I don’t know where I’m going… real invention, real lateral thinking requires wandering. And you have to give yourself permission to wander.” He continues: 

“I think a lot of people feel like wandering is inefficient. When I sit down at a meeting, I don’t know how long the meeting is going to take if we’re trying to solve a problem, because if I did, then I’d know there’s some kind of straight line that we’re drawing to the solution. The reality is we may have to wander for a long time. And I do like group invention. I think there’s really nothing more fun than sitting at a whiteboard with a group of smart people and spit-balling and coming up with new ideas and objections to those ideas, and then solutions to the objections and going back and forth. So, sometimes you wake up with an idea in the middle of the night and sometimes you sit down with a group of people and go back and forth, and both things are really pleasurable.” (H/T Cam Tierney)

A few more links I enjoyed: 

“When you’re out in the woods, you see ecosystems. You see systems everywhere…. As I’ve sat in the woods and observed wildlife, it has occurred to me that there are animals that resemble business models. [For example,] we have a lot of coyotes on our property. Coyotes are successful because they have a great ‘business model’: they only attack when they have an enormous, overwhelming advantage. They are wired to have a margin of safety.”
“The internet has gifted us a unique mechanism for global coordination, for revolutionary cultural phase changes. And the last three years have show that these can propagate through the system almost instantaneously. But revolutions aren’t always positive. The primary flaw of many of these viral social movements so far is that they have too often focused on making distinctions, drawing divisions and ostracising our shadows. You can’t believe we’re all connected, precisely as you try to cancel someone.”
“Do you want to live longer? Live better? Live forever? Humanity’s obsession with the fountain of youth never gets old, truly. Only now there’s actual science, not just pure science fiction—and also millions of dollars dedicated to this immortality-obsessed frontier. How this all plays out remains to be seen, and many of us probably won’t be around to find out. Or maybe we will be! So Bloomberg Businessweek put together this special cover-to-cover issue to examine the latest science—and explore a world with many more people living past 100.”

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