The limitations of hive idea generation

We all know how disruptive ideas can change our lives significantly. I am writing on one. The very imagination required to think that we human beings will require an auxiliary device to write on is not more than 50 years old.  The power of ideas is all around us. We have become a hive mind. All of us feeding off each other’s ideas and building new and engaging things. This is all great news.

However, there are a few limitations.

  1. The hive think : As more and more people enter this hive, structures of thinking and innovation materialize so that all can stay organized. The “minds” have to think within this box if their ideas are to be husbanded. Think Microsoft products. Great in themselves but very much part of a structural system so it takes a while for any truly original thought to arise. The kaizen thinking approach has this huge problem of not being able to absorb really different ideas coming from without. The good people at Apple are in this position right now where their best selling product is the Airpod and there seems to be no other disruptive product left in the bag.
  2. The competition for a better kerosene : While the oil makers a century ago were perfecting the kind of kerosene that will burn with the least amount of smoke, other more adventurous people came up with the car and upended the entire oil producing industry. The quest of a product that is slightly better than other products of the same ilk is quite natural but adds to the paucity of good ideas because the minds are employed in an ever shrinking tunnel vision. We had Web 2.0 a decade ago, where is web 3.0? We have had no Google or Facebook come up recently because the people who would produce these great ideas are not focused on creating disruption anymore. Also these giants are gobbling up any competition or new product idea that they see.
  3. Too much of a good thing : The hive is built around ideas that were generated and nurtured in a small part of the world: mostly silicon valley. They cannot be really transferred across the various different cultures now accessing and playing a part in the hive mind. The problems of war-torn sub-saharan Africa do not find any cognizance, forget the desire to solve them. The great firewall of China has no desire to let people of the middle kingdom be part of this hive. South Asia has a huge consumer base ready to consume products not built for them. The lack of participation by a large group of humanity means that there is very little new thought that percolates in this hive. There is a lot more homogeneity than is desirable.

Well, so what do we do about it? As people who make or design products and services, we need to ground ourselves in the problems that we are trying to solve. Instead of sitting in sunny california(this is not a fair dig, I know) dreaming for the world, product creators need to differentiate between different cultures, their norms of work and life and try to fit in there rather than vice versa. Facebook, Google and Microsoft in a very well-meaning way have tried to create teams based on regions but have not been successful because they are always looking for talent that is a “good fit” for the original organization.

There is a lot of thought that goes into building new products but they are almost always for the haves, never for the havenots. It will be a warm and sunny day if we can think up services like airtime as money transfer, solar batteries, cheap smartphones for South Asia, etc. Let’s hope and work towards that time otherwise the next disruption will probably dismantle this hive that we have carefully built.

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