You are only as smart as the people around you
Creativity is no longer about one genius in a lab somewhere with a big, secret idea. Instead, creativity is about intelligence of the crowd and about sharing and interacting. And the best place to find these conditions is in a dense, diversified city.
New research has found that the human spark – our evolutionary leap tens of thousands of years ago that made us inventive human beings – did not come out of a random genetic mutation. Rather, it is a result of the increasing density of human population. This research, as explained in the March issue of Scientific American, suggests that large social networks are what spur human creativity.
You, I, all of us, take the ideas of others and put our own twist on them. We turn them into into something different and these innovations in turn evolve into something new and more complex. The smartphone for example, was not invented by one individual genius but rather over several cycles of technological innovation. Our ability to build on each other’s ideas and pass knowledge on to other individuals is sometimes called cultural ratcheting. It is what sets us apart from our primate relatives and it is an example of how we are completely dependent on the collective.
The whole idea of the internet and social networking, it turns out, expresses something very human. Never before have we been so crowded, so connected and so willing to share new designs, ideas and concepts. We have never been as creative and innovative as we are today. What it all boils down to is that it’s not you, but who you know that matters. Mark Thomas, Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at University College London puts it quite simply: “It’s not how smart you are. It’s how well connected you are.”
Rapid urbanization worldwide means we have never before lived in such dense conditions as in today’s cities. Cities are sometimes talked about as amplifiers of human creativity, but perhaps it is not so much the city itself but its density that is critical for creativity and innovation.