Matt Novak (aka Paleofuture) is a historian and blogger who writes about the history of innovation and the history of the way we imagine the future. A couple of weeks ago, at South by Southwest, he gave a fascinating presentation that I wanted you guys to hear more about.
The basic thesis: Tesla vs. Edison — UR DOIN IT WRONG.
Whether you think Tesla > Edison or Edison > Tesla, Novak says you're missing something important. In reality, technology isn't shaped by one guy who had one great idea and changed the world. Instead, it's a messy process, full of flat-out failures and not-quite-successes, and populated by many great minds who build off of and are inspired by each other's work. This is about more than just getting history right. Letting go of The Great Man paradigm has implications for everything from copyright law, to how we go about innovation today. When we focus too much on Great Men, Novak says, we lose sight of what innovation actually looks like ... and we impede our ability to build the future.
You can listen to my interview with Matt Novak here, or download it at Soundcloud.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.