It’s sharing ideas that leads to innovation. The Romantic idea of the artist as a lonely genius? It’s more like Newton and Oasis and the rest of us jostling for position on the shoulders of giants.

According to Malcolm ‘Tipping Point‘ Gladwell, innovation happens when people egg each other on. Group social interaction results in radical ideas.

He looks at how Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, how Darwin, Watt and Priestley, how TV comedians Saturday Night Live got together and got down – in John Belushi’s case to coke snorting and everybody’s wife – to produce, in the end, pure genius.

Of course, innovation needs heads-down time too. The trick is to ‘combine the right kind of insularity with the right kind of homogeneity’ and create an environment that’s safe and yet stimulating.
– New Yorker

Glib? Sure, everybody nowadays loves innovation, creativity and thinking out of the rectangular container. Just needs a little singing from the same hymnbook. Buzzword bingo!

But Gladwell has a point. Creativity requires collaboration. It also requires the ability to rework ideas taken from a common stock.

What should send us scurrying to the law books at this point, Gladwell’s tipping or even, judging by the number of newspaper stories around about copyright issues, tipped point, is that not everyone thinks the creative process should happen freely – not in the sense of ‘free beer’ and not, sometimes, in the sense of ‘free speech’.

Jonathan Zittrain, director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, says we’re at the start of a culture war.

It sounds dramatic, but he’s right. As a result of the ease with which files can be shared across the internet, the informal common sense approach to sharing ideas, to innovating, is crashing against the corporate belief in the sanctity of copyright.

Business is ready to accept innovation, is ready to let us make content, is ready to give us access to walled gardens where collaboration can happen – but only at a price, if it can be costed, worked into a business plan.

Zittrain says we need a compromise between the profit motive and the urge to create. Given the current political climate, that’s unlikely unless there’s a general recognition of what we stand to lose. Zittrain ends: ‘freedom of trade must not trump freedom of mind’.
– Boston Globe