Innovation Aphorisms

Over the weekend I read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s thought-provoking book The Bed of Procrustres. It’s a very slow read disguised as a quick read – it’s ~100 pages of aphorisms. You can go through it quickly, but most of them both require and reward deeper thought.

I’ve picked out some which provide some insight into innovation. Taleb suggests that aphorisms are devalued when explained, which is probably true, so I won’t expand on them. One of his main themes is that when faced with systems which can neither be understood nor predicted, people will try to frame the situation in a way that provides the illusion of certainty, and that this leads to major problems. Obviously an important point for those who court uncertainty by pursuing innovation.

Here we go:

The test of originality for an idea is not the absence of one single predecessor but the presence of multiple but incompatible ones.

Technology is at its best when it is invisible.

We are better at (involuntarily) doing out of the box than (voluntarily) thinking out of the box.

For the robust, an error is information; for the fragile, an error is an error.

Knowledge is subtractive not additive – what we subtract (reduction by what does not work, what not to do), not what we add (what to do).

They think that intelligence is about noticing things that are relevant (detecting patterns); in a complex world, intelligence consists in ignoring things that are irrelevant (avoiding false patterns).

The ancients knew very well that the only way to understand events was to cause them.

It’s a challenging book, and it’s worth a read.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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9 thoughts on “Innovation Aphorisms

  1. I find all of Taleb’s books challenging in different ways. Business is sorely in need of new systems of thinking — this is how we think about what we do — to cause their trade.

  2. Thanks for the comment Valeria. I fully agree with you with regard to the need for new systems of thinking. Taleb always pushes me, even if I don’t agree with everything he says. Or, maybe, especially when I don’t.

  3. I think I suddenly have a few more books to read. Thanks for letting us know about this guy Tim.

  4. He’s definitely worth reading Mathieu – my personal favourite of his is Fooled By Randomness. I think it is the cleanest description of his main points.

  5. Agree that each of those aphorisms triggers a deeper thought, regardless of the fact whether you agree or not. Thanks for sharing this Tim. His books are in my reading list now.

  6. Thanks for the comment Hemant. His books are definitely worth reading. And I agree with you about the value of the aphorisms regardless of agreement – they definitely spur thought.

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