The Rational Optimist


I first heard of Matt Ridley in 2011, when I attended his keynote presentation for The University of Melbourne’s Festival of Ideas.  He was promoting his book ‘The Rational Optimist’, which I read after hearing his insightful presentation.

I found one of his examples particularly interesting and think of it often even two years down the track. Ridley argues that the advancement of humans, compared to other species, is not due to  language, nor opposable thumbs, nor larger brains, but trade. He uses an example of a flint axe and computer mouse to illustrate his point.


The flint axe, computer mouse and human innovation

Both designed for the human hand, roughly the same size and shape.  For millions of years, one remained unchanged, whilst the other experienced phenomenal innovations in just a matter of decades. Why?mridley

No-one is the world knows how to make a computer mouse

The flint axe can be made by one person. But there is no single person in the world who holds the knowledge to make a computer mouse. The guy who designs the mouse doesn’t know how to drill the oil to make the plastics. The lady on the assembly line doesn’t know about electronic circuitry. The electronics guy knows nothing about mining metal ore.

Connections lead to innovation

Through trade, humans were able to specialise. When they specialised, they became better and more efficient at what they did. When they meshed ideas,  joined the dots, filled in the blanks, made connections, rapid advancement began to occur.

Author: Teri Nolan

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