Daniel Pink notes an interesting statistic presented in the book See New Now:

A study of the top fifty game-changing innovations over a hundred-year period showed that nearly 80 percent of those innovations were sparked by someone whose primary expertise was outside the field in which the innovation breakthrough took place.

Think about that for a second. Only 1 in 5 game-changing innovations came from the minds of people that specialized in that particular field. If accurate (and I haven’t read the book or seen the data since the links to the section aren’t working, so I am going on faith here), it points to the important role that polymaths play in innovation.

It also portends a further increase in the direction of innovation via polymaths given the way current technology has democratized creativity and production. If you look at the true impact of technology over the past few decades, it has been the lowering of the barriers to entry of independent entrepreneurs across numerous fields–”the rise of the amateur”, as many have noted.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the rate of game-changing innovation initiated by outside innovators increases over time and clusters tightly from the 1980′s to the present.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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