Session Summary

Innovation creates new uses from existing inventions.

Innovation in evolution finds new uses in old inventions.

Changes that enabled pivotal moments in evolution, such as fish starting to walk on land—a change that required multiple physical features including limbs, lungs and necks, are based on characteristics that are not new but rather repurposed.

Not many things need to be invented.

All inventions necessary for fish to start walking on land came about while living in water. For example, lungs were ‘invented’ to allow fish to gulp air from the water’s surface in situations where oxygen levels were too low to let them breathe through their gills

Small changes can leverage big impacts.

Citing a study of salamanders by Auguste Duméril as an example, the salamanders’ development changed dramatically following tiny changes in their hormones. Humans have the same genes to leverage big impacts from small changes.

Diversity brings innovation.

A population with homogeneous traits is disastrous for its survivability.

Without diversity, it would be impossible to change, innovate and be resilient. Increasingly, the risks facing mankind are those associated with a lack of diversity, e.g., monocropping in agriculture makes large plots of land susceptible to diseases and plagues.

Diversity is a key ingredient for experiments that drive innovation.

Innovation occurs via experiments and failures. A diverse set of features is necessary for species to repurpose traits for innovation.

Teams that are made of diverse memberships are more successful at making good decisions.

Evidence suggests that diversity contributes positively to the ability of teams to innovate and solve problems.

A culture of innovation that is necessary for survival is one that embraces failure.

Never too big or successful to go extinct.

All biological organisms are liable to catastrophes. Similarly, during the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses that fail to adapt and innovate—no matter how big or successful they were pre-pandemic—went out of business.

In massive catastrophes, traits associated with survival tend to be redundant, but the best trait to have regardless is to innovate.

During mass extinctions, any advantages that a species has are useless and its survival primarily depends on luck. However, during smaller catastrophes, a species’s ability to innovate is vital to survive background extinction.

To drive innovation, it is important to inculcate a culture that respects trying and braves the possibility of failure.

Pushing the limits is going to be risky, even when the odds are in your favor. Teams that drive innovation must be comfortable with failing and should expect it in their day-to-day operations.