A Contrarian View of Invention

I’ll start by pointing out that I have several patents to my name. I conceived of the inventions and wrote the patents. I have advanced degrees in science. I started several ventures.

I’m not writing to brag or put patents or innovation down, just that I think I hold my own on innovation and invention.

Now that I write about and teach leadership and entrepreneurship, I look more at relationships, emotions, and motivations. I look at culture, inside and outside companies.

I recently combined two concepts to realize what our inventive culture says about us.

Neediness

First, speaking of relationships and emotions, consider neediness.

Many people rank it among the most repulsive characteristics someone can have. But don’t take my word for it. Here are two sentences from the first page returned when I searched on “neediness”:

Neediness is a highly toxic mindset and it immediately makes your point of attraction to be rooted in lack

and

neediness is so toxic that it can easily attract negativity in all aspects of your life.

Quora has 73 responses to “Why is neediness such a repulsive characteristic?”

Necessity and Invention

Now consider necessity, not far from neediness. They say that necessity is the mother of invention.

If so, then our culture being inventive implies we’re needy–“a highly toxic mindset”–on a cultural level.

You could say the most inventive people are the most needy. If the inventors aren’t needy themselves, then typical sales and marketing strategy is to make potential buyers feel needy.

We create and value neediness.

Alternative Views and Values

A book, Affluence Without Abundance, about hunter-gatherers living in Africa prompted these thoughts. It says that Bushmen societies seem not to have changed over tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of years–longer than most societies have existed.

The author, James Suzman, writes about a Bushman,

if necessity is the mother of invention, my sense is that his ancestors had found something within this place to banish necessity from their lives.

An interesting alternative–to value needing less instead of inventing more. I’ve only started reading the book, but it implies the Bushmen live richer in many ways than we do. There seems to be something to their non-inventive way of living.

Pollution, resource depletion, extinctions, global warming, and other problems with our inventive, needy culture implies we may have based our culture on counterproductive values.

As Suzman said to the New York Times,

If we judge a civilization’s success by its endurance over time, then the Bushmen are the most successful society in human history. Their experience of modernity offers insight into many aspects of our lives, and clues as to how we might address some big sustainability questions for the future.

I wonder how much more we can learn from them than we can expect.

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