Ming the Mechanic:
Are breakthroughs social?

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Are breakthroughs social?2007-06-20 22:41
41 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

Matt Mower talks , here too, about breakthroughs, based on Terry Frazier discussing a talk by Lisa Haneberg, who in a talk said this:
  • Breakthroughs happen in a social context, If you aren't out actively promoting your goal or idea, discussing it regularly with friends, colleagues, and strangers and sharing your challenges, achievements, and objectives, you aren't going to make any breakthroughs.

  • Introverts, no matter how smart, rarely make breakthroughs, Breakthroughs do not happen in front of your face. They happen in the connections and gaps and networks that emerge from constant forward action and focus.
  • So, is a breakthrough a social thing? I'm not sure I agree that it is, necessarily. Rather, it sounds like an extrovert speaking.

    A breakthrough is, I suppose, when there's something somebody wants, and something stopping it which is somewhat complex. So, it is a problem, or dilemma, or a confused situation, where an objective is known, but not being met. Something is stuck. And then, bing, something changes, and you're at another level, a better place, where things are simpler, and things are flowing. Might be just a reframe, you suddenly see things differently. Or you acquire a piece you didn't have before. An individual can do that, or a group.

    But is that inherently social? I agree that more evolved social networking could be more likely to generate breakthroughs for individuals, breakthroughs in thinking or living. The availability of more social flows might give you an opportunity for being more in the flow. They might, but they won't necessarily. And it is not like it couldn't happen without.

    Personally I often need people to talk things over with in order to break through something. I need input, and I need to see ideas reflect themselves in other people before I quite know what they mean, and then I make up my own mind. But it works differently for different people. Some people need other people before they can do certain things. Other people need to be alone to do the same thing. And it isn't as simple as extrovert/introvert. One might be extroverted as to some aspects of one's life, and introverted in regards to others.

    But the question of how social contexts can be more conducive to breakthrough is a very intesting one. How do you lay things out so that routine breakthroughs are the norm?


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    21 Jun 2007 @ 18:00 by Hanae @69.33.46.10 : The Eureka moment

    Archimedes has become a symbol of the famous "breakthrough" moment after his attempt at solving a nasty little problem involving a gold crown belonging to Hiero of Syracuse, lead him to the enunciation of the famous Archimedes's principle. Well, the story goes that the breakthrough occurred to him, while the case still being on his mind, he happened to go to the bath (and bath were, well, somewhat of a "social" occasion, in those days) and on getting into a tub (maybe more of a private moment here, and certainly conductive to introspection) observed that the more his body sank into it the more water ran out over the tub. Upon which transported with joy, he jumped out of the tub and rushed home naked (and how "social" or "asocial" was that in those days, I do not know), shouting repeatedly and loudly: εὑρηκα/ηὑρηκα

    And so the interesting point here is...er...

    - I am not sure what the interesting point is. -

    (Nonetheless, it makes for a good story, as such things go.)

    And, ah, yes, Archimedes's "eureka" has come to symbolize the "breakthrough" moment. Is a breakthrough indeed a "moment" or more of a process? In the case of Archimedes it seemed like more of a "moment" thing, almost a "wonder of wonders" Buddha like kind of awakening. But it is also a process in a sense that a context is needed. Nothing comes out of nothing. And is one ever really "alone?"

    The Xeno's paradox kicks in: does every little process breaks up into some smaller processes and bits and pieces until it suddenly emerge into a "breakthrough?" Is there some reproducible social contexts patterns there that could be identified and reproduced so that they could be systematized?

    What did the Tortoise say to Achilles?  



    21 Jun 2007 @ 18:57 by Hanae @69.33.46.10 : Serendipity

    A breakthrough refers to the act of overcoming or penetrating an obstacle or restriction. Which is pretty much Flemming's angle:
    "A breakthrough is, I suppose, when there's something somebody wants, and something stopping it which is somewhat complex. So, it is a problem, or dilemma, or a confused situation, where an objective is known, but not being met."

    Another angle is that a breakthrough is also a term which is used to refer to a major achievement that permits further progress: in this context a breakthrough can also just simply occur then when there's nothing anybody particularly wants, or necessarily anything complex stopping anyone that anyone knows of. No problem. No dilemma. No known objective. Rather it is the revelation of the existence of an objective previously unknown which can be the breakthrough. A new reality, a new way of looking at things, which no one was necessarily looking for. In which case it is called serendipity.

    Is it social?

    It can be.

    "Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer's daughter."
    ---Julius Comroe Jr.

    But not necessarily so - LOL

    Can it be thought?

    Aye, there's the rub...

    "...you don't reach Serendib by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings ... serendipitously."
    ---John Barth, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor  



    21 Jun 2007 @ 20:09 by ming : Serendipity
    I suppose a breakthrough is always a point, isn't it? Suddenly it is there, or suddenly it is noticed, at least.

    And it might or might not arise from serendipity. I enjoy the serendipitous breakthroughs better. You plot a course for somewhere, and you surprisingly arise elsewhere, and it is found to be better.

    But it could also simply mean that you worked hard and methodically on solving something, and you succeeded.  



    21 Jun 2007 @ 21:59 by Hanae @69.33.46.10 : Very much so ;-)

    "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny …'"
    ---Isaac Asimov

    yet,

    "In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind."
    ---Louis Pasteur  



    25 Jun 2007 @ 14:15 by quirkeboy @209.92.185.200 : I would think...
    that an individual requires input and data gathering to aid in solving the problem.. but this doesnt necessarily suggest social interraction. I would argue that social interraction is not necessary:
    [link]  



    10 Jul 2007 @ 21:42 by Hanae @69.33.46.10 : Is it possible to be too connected?

    Surowiecki spoke on Independent Individuals and Wise Crowds, or Is It Possible to Be Too Connected?.

    The question for all of us is, how can you have interaction without information cascades, without losing the independence that’s such a key factor in group intelligence?

    He recommends:

    - Keep your ties loose
    - Keep yourself exposed to as many diverse sources of information as possible
    - Make groups that range across hierarchies  



    10 Jul 2007 @ 23:30 by ming : Too connected
    Excellent article about the Unwisdom of Crowds there. As he says "Collective wisdom does not emerge out of consensus". If we're too much together, too connected, we might just end up agreeing and imitating each other. Which doesn't produce collective intelligence. So, the question is how to strike the right balance. We need diversity and connectedness. If the diversity is too drastic, we maybe don't understand each other. If we're too synchronized, we might all say the same thing, and we're dumber as a group.  


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