I would take the other side of this bet. Innovation requires that some individuals are willing to think differently, but I don’t think it comes from any sort of spiritual advancement. I have done a lot of writing on the theory of innovation, taking the position that innovation is an exploratory process based on evolution. It has dynamics based on physical scale — optimization or efficiency or “exploitation” at the small scale and “exploration” at the large scale. So, while you argue that efficiency and innovation are different, I would say that efficiency is a small result and what you call innovation is just a bigger version of the same thing.

Innovation runs at faster and slower rates, which is also happens with evolution in “punctuated equilibrium”. There is a fascinating tendency to bursts or “increasing returns” to innovation. That is why technical, artistic, and philosophical changes seem to come at the same time. There is a strong correlation, but it is a purely mechanical correlation on two dimensions: 1) bursts of change trigger change across lots of disciplines; 2) More resources from economic innovation lead to more changes in multiple disciplines. Innovation is an extremely wasteful process of trial and error. It only works when society has excess resources. Necessity is the mother of conservatism, not innovation.

Aggregation and exchange of knowledge is another example of innovation bursting. Mechanically, this is an increasing returns mechanism where innovation in handling knowledge leads to more knowledge, etc. Unfortunately, this effect seems to be much weaker than we expect. We have a lot more sharing of knowledge since we invented the Internet and started giving out mobile phones, but statistically we have less economically impactful innovation. It doesn’t even seem to be making people wiser.

All of these can be modeled as mechanical processes. I think that both economic innovation and what we would describe as creativity can be generated by purely mechanical means. There is a sort of “mechanics of creation”. I would describe a creative solution to a problem as very efficient, but not provably optimal. That describes the result a lot of evolutionary algorithms.

The result of this process has a lot of randomness. Then, humans adapt to that. I would hesitate to take the position that this process is related to human enlightenment, which is the position of this article. Humans may find enlightenment as they deal with dynamics of this process, but humans tend to seek enlightenment when faced with any environmental disruption, so I wouldn’t single out innovation.

SaaS entrepreneur/engineer. Founder of MAXOS, Real World DeFi. Previously founded Assembla, PowerSteering Software, on team at SNL Financial.

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