The Road to Utopia
In the year 1516, Thomas Moore famously coined the term utopia to describe a near-perfect existence. This word, literally translated from Greek, means nowhere, and for the whole of human history, near-perfect existence has been nowhere to be found. I, Advancing Retail, and my army of innovators intend to change this fact, and we’ll do it by turning the means provided to us by the Fourth Industrial Revolution into solutions. This process is known as innovation, and on this episode of Reality, Retail & Revolution, we’ll explore innovation in detail, empowering revolutionaries like you with the knowledge needed to take the first step on the road to utopia.
Means and solutions at their core are simply actions, and all actions are taken in pursuit of the good things needed to solve our needs. To experience a need is to simultaneously experience a problem and an opportunity. To briefly elaborate, needs are problems because they cause us to suffer afflictions such as hunger that take away our happiness. Conversely, needs are opportunities because these afflictions incentive us to use our means to acquire goods such as food. Means that do this successfully are called solutions, and we value them greatly.
Whenever conscious, needs enter into a person’s mind like an on-coming stream through the five senses. This experience, and the knowledge we derive from reflecting on this experience, reveals to us both needs in their particular form and the corresponding goods that solve them. With this contextual understanding in place, humans then utilize their reason to determine the potential actions they might take to achieve their desired end. Reason prioritizes these potential solutions first by efficiency and second by taste, understood to mean how pleasing something is to our 5 senses. Once these thoughts are organized, reason then prompts our will to choose from amongst the available options.
Whenever deciding between two equally efficient solutions, the secondary factor of taste plays a role in our will’s determination. For example, the act of eating an apple solves the problem of hunger, but given a choice among apples, one might choose to eat a Granny Smith apple over say a Fuji apple. As neither type of apple is objectively better than the other, there is no right answer to be chosen and it is solely up to one’s individual taste to make the decision.
While a human’s will is largely free, it is not entirely so. First, it is always guided by the needs we’re experiencing and the urgency of the problems they cause. Second, what our knowledge perceives to be true, and what is actually is true, is different, hence ignorance plays a role in all of our will’s decisions. Third, emotions often influence our will’s choices, causing us to take actions that are not necessarily efficient or tasteful. Fourth and finally, some actions we take are reflexive, meaning they are not sentiently chosen by our will. These actions come in two main types: first, subconscious actions, such as when your hand immediately pulls back after accidentally touching a hot stove, and second, habitual actions, such as brushing one’s teeth.
The latter type of action has a major role to play in the revolution ahead. As Aristotle taught us nearly 2,400 years ago, humans are creatures of habit, and the vast majority of our lives and the action’s we take during them are of this variety. Every time a person performs a new action, a new neural pathway is created in the brain and the action becomes more easily repeatable. Just as needs are both a blessing and a curse, so too are habits. They are a blessing to humans because they enable us to address common needs in less time and with almost no thought, freeing us up to contemplate other things. Contrarily, habits are also a curse, as they close the human mind off to other solutions we could potentially choose to more efficiently or tastefully solve our problems.
Habits are solutions, and hence require us to input our possessed goods in order for our desired ends to be achieved. These possessed goods are our means, and whether you’re a homeless person on the street or the president in the White House, one’s means are always limited. Just as our needs and the goods that solve them are universal in concept but different in particular, so too are our means. In concept, these means are mental aptitude, physical capability, goods and solutions in inventory, personal time and communication. Every single solution people utilize draws upon these means to bring desired ends about.
Millions of solutions exist today for the needs we face, but our reason tells us which ones we can take advantage of. For example, if your hungry, one potential solution to your problem would be to use the food in your existing inventory, such as that in your refrigerator, to solve the issue. If you pursue this action and then realize your refrigerator is empty, the attempted solution has failed. If truly motivated to solve the problem, you must then use your reason to invent other ways to direct the means at your disposal to acquire food. This adversity it not pleasant for human beings, and it in the words of Steve Jobs, “half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance” in the face of this failure.
Innovation is born out these situations, as when a human doesn’t have the means needed to make a chosen solution work, they’re forced to invent new solutions that requires either less or different means to be inputed to achieve the same good end. When this adverse situation is overcome successfully and the resulting solution is more efficient than the solutions that existed prior, innovation has taken place.
The vast majority of human innovation is incremental in that it simply makes existing solutions and our habitual use of them slightly more efficient. Sticking with our example of habitually brushing one’s teeth, today there’s multiple types of toothbrushes one can use specifically for this purpose. Let us compare though the benefit of using a manual toothbrush with that of an electric toothbrush. Both solutions require a human to input the same amount of time to achieve the desired end, but an electric toothbrush requires slightly less physical effort to bring a slightly greater amount of good health to our mouths. This difference in efficiency is noticeable, and causes electric toothbrushes to be valued at a higher monetary amount. The habit of brushing one’s teeth remains the same though in both scenarios and hence the innovation is incremental between the two solutions.
In contrast with incremental innovation, revolutionary innovation eradicates existing habits by replacing them with exponentially more efficient ones. To draw on our previous episode’s example, compare walking with riding a bicycle. Both solutions get us where we’re going, but a bicycle does so while utilizing exponentially less time and physical effort, making it incomparably more efficient. Combine this with the fact riding a bicycle requires a completely different set of habitual actions to operate than walking, and we can clearly see how a bike is a revolutionary innovation compared to walking.
Like wildfire, the fourth industrial revolution will eradicate the current habits we use to address our worldly needs and replace them with exponentially more efficient ones. How? By bringing a near-limitless capacity to our means themselves. For example, wearables will empower our physical capabilities, artificial intelligence will empower our mental aptitude, 3D printing will empower our goods and solutions in inventory, and so on and so forth.
Yet while empowering our means is critical to our utopian-vision’s success, efficient solutions alone are not to key to a desirable future. As taught by both Jobs and Aristotle’s mentor Socrates, it is “not life, but good life, that is to be chiefly valued”. Correspondingly, it is not innovation, but good innovation, that we prize above all else. While tenacity in the face of adversity may eventually lead to an efficient solution, good solutions solve problems in a way that appeals to our 5 senses and by extension enhances the context within which we live. For example, while Steve Jobs did not invent word processing on a computer, he is credited with bringing visually tasteful font types to this solution and we praise him for it.
While all the solutions of the fourth industrial revolution should strive to be both efficient and tasteful, certain technologies among them such as augmented and virtual reality will bring us unparalleled control over the context our 5 senses perceive. This will empower us to change everything about reality except the good and evil bedrock upon which it is built, and together, these new means have set the stage for near-perfect existence. On the next episode of Reality, Retail & Revolution we’ll continue down this path of turning these means into solutions, illuminating for all our next step on our road to utopia.
(Originally published as podcast on June 14th, 2016)