Nerd Alert! This post could be dangerous to those who don’t have nerdy tendencies!! Worse still, it is highly speculative! Read with Caution!
Here is a question: What will be the most important values of the 21st century? I don’t mean this in an abstract sense. For example, you might feel yourself that justice is important. But that doesn’t mean that cravings for justice will trump other values in producing societal change during this century. I am asking what values will have that effect. Like the way that “efficiency” as a value had such a profound effect on the 20th century.
We cannot know for sure without a crystal ball. At the same time, in order to plug into streams of commerce we need to have an opinion. That opinion anchors our view on what activities are most important to talk about and produce innovation.
My bet is that empowerment will be a major trump value. Why? We are just now developing the tools that could enable more people to share the “good life”. But to use these tools, people need the confidence to take risks that arise when we act without full information. To venture forth and create brave new worlds.
So far so good. But consider this. We don’t really know what empowerment means in terms of brain activity. In other words, we don’t have a clear idea of how empowered people use their brains differently than people who are not empowered. We just know that we get different results when we task an empowered person to get something done versus a person who doesn’t have that same quality. So for example, we can see with hindsight that tasking Steve Jobs to run Apple was a pretty good idea. He was empowered to make this work. Giving me the same job probably would not have produced the same result.
There are two conflicting paradigms that might explain the difference. The first (and I would guess the one that represents the predominant view) is that empowerment sharpens functionality of neurons. Along with empowerment, neurons become better integrated. Thus, one might think that there is a stronger command and control quality to their cooperation. The second is that empowerment frees neurons from constraints imposed by too much control. Empowerment is about allowing neurons to rebel and create parallel thinking that may overthrow the existing order. This would mean that empowerment relies on less command and control.
Which is it? Well, to answer that we need to understand how neurons function. One thing is becoming more clear. Neurons have parallel processing capacity. And this parallel processing capacity multiplies the capacity of the human brain to adapt to reality.
Ok - so if “empowerment” means more adaptability, it may mean less rather than more command and control orientation. Indeed, one can imagine how a “loud and overbearing neuron” could impose constraints on cognitive processes. For example, by producing an inner voice that stops one from embarking on thinking that might challenge dogma. One could go further. If a person has a number of loud and overbearing neurons, he or she might become somewhat unstable. In this sense, neural cooperation may have an odd sort of political dimension and empowerment may arise from more internal freedom guided by experience.
And what about unemployed neurons? Well, the more we impose internal order, the more constraints we impose on neural activity and the more likely that a small number of neurons can dominate our thinking. The more we are open to new ideas, the more potential engagement we offer to neurons. We might employ more of them and this might unleash new capacities.
It is an interesting albeit, nerdy thread. Ooops!
FOLLOW - I like the above vocabulary. So ok, I am about to get seriously weird and extend this thread further. We might think of individual neurons in the brain like entrepreneurs. They are engaged in developing story lines (their product) that empowers us to move into the future. But they need investment to develop their products. That investment comes from neural partners. Hmmm … perhaps like real world VC’s.
Here comes the really weird part. Fred Wilson writes today that there are two predominant types of VC’s in the real world
… there are plenty of (VC’s) who fund hopes and dreams (early stage investors). And plenty of (VC’s) willing to fund true success (agnostic as to which stage). At the stage where you are past hopes and dreams, where you have customers, revenue, and a real business, but have not yet reached “true success”, there just aren’t many investors to choose from.
Applying this to empowered thinking, we should expect neural excitement over wild new ideas. And we should expect excitement over demonstrated success. Those things are easy to support as story lines. It is harder to find support for ideas that are not so new and without demonstrated value either. But some of these may produce the best path to the good life.
Moral of the story: we prosper from making wise investments in uncertain but intriguing story lines. Day dreaming? It may feel that way, but it is much more powerful.