Terry Hunt, Carl Lipo: “The Statues Walked — What Really Happened on Easter Island.”

Terry Hunt, Carl Lipo: “The Statues Walked – What Really Happened on Easter Island.” Rethink everything you thought you knew about Easter Island. Jared Diamond had it wrong.

An economy of abundance

The key question: how can we better conceptualize the switch from an economy of scarcity to an economy of abundance?

Last night, Leah and I had the fantastic opportunity to fly down to San Francisco to hear Tim O’Reilly speak about the birth of the global mind. As a long time listener of the podcast, it’s always been my dream to attend a Seminar About Long-Term Thinking. The essence of Tim’s talk is well-encapsulated in an essay of the same title. One idea posed in Stewart Brand’s interview at the end touches in the nature of economy in the information age.

Economy, in my perspective, is our way of understanding how we work together. We take many things about it for granted — GDP as a measurement of growth, monetary instruments as our tools for transaction — that aren’t actually hard truths. They exist because at some point along the way we invented them to make our society more prosperous with less effort.

A peculiar situation has manifested itself. Most recently with the web, we’re inventing newer, better ways to function together that are essentially “extra-economy,” or outside how we normally measure economic activity. In these systems, far more value is being created than being captured; and for many, the generated value and associated recognition is more important than financial gain because they lead to influence.

For instance, in what I do with Automattic’s WordPress.com VIP team, a not-insignificant amount of my time each day is spent contributing to open source projects. We don’t directly monetize this work but it generates value that trickles back to us. Releasing our liveblogging plugin has already resulted in several useful contributions from the community. Making money from open source is a hack though, as our currencies are based in scarcity and our peer economies are based in abundance. In the latter, the more people participating means the more everyone benefits.

Our bootstrapping of a new mode of economy is happening hand in hand with another trend: increased productivity making certain types of jobs obsolete. A hundred years ago, the number of people involved in food production was X while today it has dropped to Y, a ten-fold decrease. While we don’t yet have the nutrition we need, we’ve certainly been able to meet our caloric numbers. Douglas Rushkoff observes “we’re living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is.” For our government, the focus is to keep the populace in jobs, because unemployment breeds discontent and has a perceived negative impact on our traditional perspective of economy.

I have no idea what comes next. I see an economy of abundance as generative, whose engine is creativity in the very literal sense of the word. And it’s additive too; what’s mine can be yours and vice versa. Don’t ask me “how do I make money?” because I don’t know. That’s the old way of measuring economy and we haven’t invented the new one.

Jonah Lehrer on creativity

A select assortment of (probably imperfect) notes from the OHSU Brain Awareness series lecture I attended tonight.


“Ideas are non-rival goods.” There is no cost to sharing them.

“Like a Rolling Stone” from Dylan was written in five hours of insight and produced in four cuts.

On moments of insight: “As soon as the answer arrives, it feels like this answer.” Scientists simulate these moments of insight by having people complete word puzzles. When you get undergraduates too drunk to drive, they solve 30% more of these problems.

Researchers using EEG machines could predict the moment of epiphany up to 8 seconds in advance.

Insights come mostly commonly from states of unfocus and relaxation.

“Creativity is residue of wasted time.” – Albert Einstein

What defines successful creativity? Not IQ or something that can be measured with a personality test. “Grit. Persistence, stubbornness, and the unwillingness to quit.”

“We live in a world obsessed with maximal tests.” In study after study, maximal tests have failed to correlate with typical, real-world performance. It’s more reliable to look at the historical data for the subject (e.g scanning frequency on electronic checkouts vs. running the cashier through a test).

“Making something new is really, really hard.” Grit is especially important in the creative domain.

“How do you know that you actually know something if you don’t actually know it?” A hunch is a “feeling of knowing.”

“The era of the line genius is over.” In the 1950’s, the most highly-cited research papers came from scientists working on their own. Now, the papers come from teams.

What are the ideal templates for group creativity? Steve Jobs restricted Pixar (a large-ish company) to two bathrooms in the atrium to force connection and random conversations. Physical location matters a lot. “Our most important new ideas appear in idle conversation from too many people occupying the same space.”

“Attendance at business conferences has almost doubled since the invention of Skype.”

Geoffrey West asks in his research: Why are cities so durable and companies so fragile? As a city gets bigger, everyone in the city becomes more productive. Companies do the exact opposite, and this becomes dangerous in the long term.

Later: here’s a great lecture by West on the topic

“The magic of a city is that it’s a freewheeling, chaotic place.” The walking speed of pedestrians is the single most predictive variable of patents (innovation) per capita.

Pervez Musharraf: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and global security

Historical context, or systemic knowledge, is critical to the pursuit of understanding any complex issue. The long term, thirty year prespective provided by Pervez Musharraf this evening opened my eyes to what could be the causes of more recent events. As we were requested to silence our cell phones, and specifically not to tweet, at the beginning of my lecture, I took sporadic notes on the back of my hand.

“All Taliban are Pashtuns, but not all Pashtuns are Taliban.” Musharraf argues that the resurgence of Taliban activity since 2003 is because the coalition forces have not included the Pashtuns in the political process. The Pashtuns comprise over 40% of the Afghani population. Not being involved in the political process means that they’ve been driven to the city and hills; to effectively rebuild the prior national covenant, the Pashtuns must also be engaged in the political process.

On why Pakistan has nuclear arms: 80% of India’s military force is reportedly oriented towards the country. Pakistan has an “existential threat” to its existence.

On relations with Afghanistan: “They have always been bad.”

Why hasn’t Osama Bin Laden been captured? “I think he’s smarter than us […] Operations are going well, let’s see if we can get him.”

On the practice of stoning women to death, and what a recent act might do: “If you think by enacting laws you can change mindsets, that doesn’t happen. Not in developing countries.” It is not in all of Pakistan that people stone their neighbors, just in the backward wilds of some areas. Musharraf argues that misunderstandings forwarded by the media make this more of an issue than it is.

What kept surfacing in my mind was this: how does minimum viable democracy change from country to country and context to context? I feel that, all to often, we unfairly judge a country’s politics in comparison to our own standards of success and failure. Musharraf notes that when he came to power at the end of 1999, through a non-violent coup, the country was considered a failed state and that by 2006 the World Bank was praising the country for its economic progress.

The recording of the lecture, if made available, will be recommended.