Saturday, September 10, 2011

Everything we learn makes everyone better off

At the cornerstone of the Secret Peace is the idea that increasing shared human knowledge is the main driver of our inevitable, relentless progress. This idea is now radically compounding in an age in which it is so easy to store and pass on information. Indeed, it's practically impossible to lose information at this point. (Organizing and understanding it all is our next hurdle.)

Here are two examples.

The New York Times reports on a startup named Wicked Start, created by Bryan Janeczko. Janeczko had the idea after starting an earlier company. He was shocked at how hard the process was, and after eventually navigating it successfully, he found demand for his new knowledge. So he started Wicked Start, a free service to guide people through the new business process. The web site has customizable templates for all sorts of different industries, and lots of information about each step of the process.

Another article I found, on CNet News, talks about Fermilab astrophysicist Jason Steffen. Like Janeczko, Steffen stumbled across a problem and realized he had insight that could benefit everyone. The problem in this case was boarding planes - often an agonizing process, as we all know. Steffen theorized about more efficient ways to board, and even found support to stage some trials on a mock 757. The trials proved his theories correct. The savings for the airline industry could be over a billion dollars in total! Steffen has offered his ideas to the airlines; with their competitive nature, I'm sure one of them will eventually see the wisdom to enact his suggestions, gain an advantage, and then see the others follow.

In both these cases, someone outside the "traditional" knowledge path for a certain task/industry - Janeczko isn't a business school professor and Steffen doesn't work for an airline - had a good idea. Whereas in the past, that idea might have lingered unrealized, today it's easier than ever before to gain support, start a new company, or find publicity. Even just throwing the idea out on the Internet might eventually float it in front of the eyes of someone with the means to take it to the next step, or with an additional idea that builds on the first. This cycle ensures that we rarely stumble backwards; we are always learning from each others' mistakes.

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