Machines, puzzles, humans and magic

The world has never moved this quickly, yet it will never again move this slowly.  Exposure to unknowns will amplify. When situations are unfamiliar it may be best to approach them as curious mysteries, rather than attempt to solve them as puzzles based on a logic that worked before. Think about first principles, encourages Peter Thiel, author of Zero to One, rather than formulas. That’s how we find value in unexpected places. Every time we create something fresh and strange, we go from a ‘Zero’ to a ‘One’. The more we create, the more we thrive. But are we too tempted to copy, in place of invent?

Creativity is by its very nature disturbing, and yet humans are designed for creating and ‘making meaning’. We are the only animals that can invent new things and better ways of making them. The more we compete through ‘match and beat’, the less we gain. In business we call this the race to the bottom, where products become commoditized. Machines already perform most repetitive, monotonous and dangerous tasks much better than humans. They are set to take on a lot more. Machines may well free us humans up for safer, interesting and more purposeful work. It’s likely however that we’ve fallen out of touch – and may need to work quite hard at rediscovering and refining a human contribution. Both at school and at work, we are conditioned into applying logic, solving puzzles, finding the answer. We are less skilled in generating possibilities, ‘seeing’ the possible magic, not easily seen, or seen only by few. A formula-culture has also taken root. We look for the formula that is easy to apply, and sure to bring success.

If you are copying the most successful companies you can think of, you are not learning from them, says Thiel. Shane Parrish, from Farnam Street Blog, reinforces the same message with his statement: “There simply is no formula for success. Giving up that notion might be the most helpful thing you can do today.” It is time to step out of the race to the bottom, as humans, as businesses, to move beyond the relentless clamber for competitive advantage and growth at all costs, suited and glamorized on countless cover pages of business magazines across the globe. We can get better at exploring that magic we bring as humans – hard to define, hard to measure, hard to copy – and set it within a frame that has more meaning for us, one we can call generative rather than extractive.

By creating new technologies, humans can rewrite the plan of the world.

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