Dialogs concerning natural ecosystems: A New Year’s whimsy

The setting: a New Year’s eve postprandial table. The diners:

Francis Bacon, 16 – 17th century philosopher and statesman, and inventor of the frozen chicken.

David Hume, 18th century philosopher and author of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and who believed that political discourse should always be polite (hmm…)

Cleisthenes, a politician from an antique land.

Dinner party host.

Host: “Francis, David – if I may be allowed to be informal in the presence of such empiricist greatness – we had a superb dinner and an enlightening debate about the scientific method, deductive reasoning, innovation, and Rainforests. Perhaps we can wrap up our conversation now?

We talked about the agriculture model of cultivated rationality with the goal of maximizing final output that I know resonates with you both. It’s a model that works for the mass production of plants, but blatantly fails when it comes to creating new ones. In this case, the better method is the Rainforest [http://www.therainforestbook.com/], which despite, or thanks to, its apparent non-rationality is the environment for innovation and the emergence and spread of new species. The Rainforest model also has the advantage of lowering transaction costs.”

Bacon: “What do you mean by transaction costs?”

Host: “Forgive me Francis, I forgot it was carelessness about cash transactions and the calumnies of your groupies that abruptly ended your political career.”

Hume: “As you know, I believe in deductive reasoning. How can we have such reasoning and demonstrate causal relationships in so patently a complex and, may I say, disorganized, model of innovation ecosystems?”

Bacon (who during the prior dinner conversation about innovation clearly believes Google to be the new 21st century ecclesiastical authority): “you may remember in my Essays I described time as the ‘great innovator’ but Google gave 115 million entries for definitions of innovation; it would seem the word ‘innovation’ has, in my opinion, been debased. However, the point I want to make is that innovation must include a time element”

Hume: “I have written that ‘all men of sound reason are disgusted with verbal disputes …it is found that the only remedy for this abuse must arise from clear definitions.’ Surely ‘innovation’ used to mean true breakthroughs, disruptions like the telephone, jet engine, internet, DNA structure, and so forth?”

Host: “David, innovation as such is a topic for another discussion. What I want to raise here is that it may not always be easy to grasp some of the Rainforest fundamentals so the purpose of these blogs is to apply Rainforest concepts to real issues, questions, and problems in innovation. In so doing we will use these principles to describe, through concrete examples, how to build innovation ecosystems in developed and developing countries.

Cleisthenes: “As an ancient fellow, I’m not sure what that these items are which Francis apparently knows about – although as a Greek I recognize tele and phone, so I assume telephone means someone shouting from a great distance. But, as a politician I don’t see so far how any of our discussions enable me to address the problems I have with delivering economic and job growth (we already have too many public intellectuals lolling around all day talking). These are my immediate problems: I’m not saying ‘I want to create an effective Rainforest ecosystem’ because I don’t yet see how this will help me. Just tell me how and I’ll go away and do it. Is that too much to ask?”

Host: That’s a fair point. Remember the reason I invited you to this New Year’s Eve dinner – and I’m grateful to you all for coming so far in time and space – is to seek your advice on future blogs in this series.

Let me survey what I believe to be the evidence for how to develop effective innovation ecosystems, summarize how this will be presented in more detail in future blogs, and get your comments.

Cleisthenes: “I’m sorry to be repetitive but I want to be sure I’m not misunderstood; this philosophical discussion is quite exciting – intellectually, but you still have not helped me. I don’t need to know about bounded rationality and such like we discussed over our meal, I want something that works. Before my government commits money to building Rainforest ecosystems, how will I know if we are on the right course without waiting for three, five years, or longer, by which time there will be a new government and new politicians to take the credit if success emerges, or blame the previous administration’s mistakes if failure; and of course the ‘expert’ consultants we used will be long gone to challenges new?”

Bacon: I realize that, unlike in my day, one cannot know about everything. My Google search showed me that innovation involves so many ideas from different disciplines, which have all been researched in depth. The readers of these blogs will not have time to study original sources. These blogs should bring results from research and application to the reader in a manageable form for practical use.

Host: If I understand your advice then in future blogs we should show how in Rainforest complex ecosystems we should, inter alia: solve problems; make decisions; express causality where possible; build innovation capacity; create roadmaps; show leadership; communicate.

Bacon: Don’t forget time. Time means telling an evolving story. Time as an element implies narrative. I believe in the efficacy of narrative to present what I have called elsewhere a ‘globe of precepts.’

Hume: Convince me that deductive reasoning and causality are not discarded in the complex systems of which you speak. As I have noted elsewhere, ‘we must endeavor to render all our principles as universal as possible, by tracing up our experiments to the upmost, and explaining all effects from the simplest and fewest causes.’

Cleisthenes: I concur with Hume’s last statement; by the way David, you sound like a Austrian economist.  Keep it practical, easy to understand, and applicable to finding solutions to specific problems.

Host: Splendid! We will follow your sage guidance. Let’s reconvene next New Year’s Eve and review progress. Perhaps I’ll also invite Wittgenstein to talk about complex systems and reducing statements at a higher level to statements at a lower level, and maybe invite …..

Next time: Solving problems and growing gardens in the Rainforest.

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