Malcolm Gladwell on the Orchestration of Insight
Last week’s New Yorker featured another Malcolm Gladwell doozy, this time challenging our common understanding of invention and its origins. In the article, Gladwell offers an inside look at Intellectual Ventures, a hodgepodge think tank made up of innovators and geniuses of all walks, the brightest of the brightest in medicine, science, and technology. Gladwell discusses the output of a dream team like IV and its ability to churn out one inventive idea after another, the manifestation of putting a handful of absurdly ingenious people together in one room, bouncing ideas off one another (IV files 500 patents a year, with a backlog of 3,000 ideas).
Besides profiling one of the most intimidating and prolifically inventive groups of thinkers in the world, Gladwell uses IV to make the case that progress and innovation will not be propelled by the singular geniuses that we’ve historically associated with invention (the Alexander Graham Bells and Isaac Newtons), but by the IVs of the world, joining forces to “orchestrate insight”. Multiple, simultaneous scientific discoveries, Gladwell points out, speckle the history of invention; scientific discovery is not the domain of a few born-under-the-right-sign geniuses, but of several pretty damn intelligent folk coming together.
Gladwell contends, “Scientific genius is not a person who does what no one else can do; he or she is someone who does what it takes many others to do. The genius is not a unique source of insight; he is merely an efficient source of insight.” In Gladwell’s view, groups like Intellectual Ventures, teams comprised of highly intelligent people who proactively collaborate and constantly follow sparks of possible innovation, are equally as capable, and often more so, of unearthing the groundbreaking scientific discoveries we once relegated to an extremely marginal few.