We think therefore[]

The phrase cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am” was inscribed onto our culture in 1637 by the French soldier cum philosopher Rene Descartes, announcing a dramatic inward turn in the way we think about ourselves. In search of certainty about his own existence, Descartes declared that the act of doubting was itself proof that we exist. To doubt is to think and to think is to be. From Descartes on certainty in our existence was rooted in our ability to think, on our own and for ourselves. Thinking for Descartes was a creative act, an inner construction of order, collecting and bringing together ideas, which was not just proof of our existence but a source of self-esteem and dignity.

The spreading net of vastly cheaper communications and computing, combined with new highly social and collaborative forms of organisations means that we are moving from “I think, therefore I am” into an era in which “we think, therefore we are.”

Creativity is invariably not an individualistic activity but a collaborative one that thrives when people share and mix their ideas. Creativity emerges from how we think together. The manner in which we organise ourselves to think together - how we publish, debate, test, refine and reject ideas – is critical. Creative thought is not just the product of Descartes’ inner journey, a flash of insight inside the head of a gifted person. It usually comes from creative interaction between people. The mass collaborations profiled in this book are experiments in we-think: finding new ways for people to combine their ideas together. Wikipedia is the shared creation of thousands of contributors. The mountain bike came into being through shared innovation among hundreds of riders before the big bike manufacturers came on the scene. Linux has grown by orchestrating contributions from thousands of bug reporters and programmers. Computer games thrive on the mass innovation of the players. Most of eBay’s best business ideas came from its community of users. Most large scientific projects depend on international collaboration among independent teams. This generation’s motto will be: we think, therefore we are.

That is a huge challenge to the way we assume new ideas are created. We are used to thinking that innovation and new ideas come from special people, often working in special places, wearing special clothes: the boffin, in his white coat in the lab; the artist, in his smock, in the studio; the zany inventor, barely clean, in his garage; the loft living bohemian wandering the cultural quarter. The implication of these caricatures of the creative class is clear: if you want more creativity in your city, society or company, you need more people and places like this. Creativity thrives when special people work in special places: bring on the creative class.

Yet innovation and creativity are becoming increasingly distributed, emerging from many, often unexpected, sources thanks to rising educational attainments, spreading communications and cheaper technology. As more people acquire the capacity to express and share their creativity so they will find new ways to be creative together. Creativity will emerge not just from specially gifted individuals, but from creative collaborations bringing together different ideas and points of view. We are schooled to think that new ideas come freshly minted out of the heads of specially gifted individuals, lone inventors. We are moving into an era when new ideas more often will emerge through collaboration. They will be the products of shared authorship.

Return to Main Page
Proceed to Chapter 9 part 3