Mythology and Innovation

Few days back I shared a few posts which mentioned how innovation and growth stagnated starting at around the 1970s.

I wonder if it was also co-related with a drop in mythology and superstition.

When I read about people during the 60s (especially in California and New York), there are references to mystical books like I Ching, and Zen buddhism.

I was reading  ‘The Man in the High Castle‘, and the portrayed a world where almost every decision was made after consulting the I Ching. The author wrote it in early 1960s. Today I came across the writings of the musician John Cage, which from this article, tell that,

His fascination with the I Ching and chance operations led him to emphasize that not-knowing is one of the keys to making art.

His work was inspired by Zen Buddhism too.

Cage is perhaps best known for his 1952 composition 4′33″, the three movements of which are performed without a single note being played. The content of the composition is meant to be perceived as the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed, rather than merely as four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence, and the piece became one of the most controversial compositions of the 20th century.

And of course, most people know about the trip Steve Jobs took to India, and how he infused designs with Zen Buddhism. His formative years were the 70s.

 As a young seeker in the ’70s, Jobs didn’t just dabble in Zen, appropriating its elliptical aesthetic as a kind of exotic cologne. He turns out to have been a serious, diligent practitioner who undertook lengthy meditation retreats at Tassajara — the first Zen monastery in America, located at the end of a twisting dirt road in the mountains above Carmel — spending weeks on end “facing the wall,” as Zen students say, to observe the activity of his own mind.

Who does this these days? I do see people doing a lot of adventures, like rooftopping, which makes better good instagram photos than ‘facing a wall’.

Today, I don’t find many people in the business world or popular media talking about art or mythology. Everyone talks about data, A/B testing and research. All of these things come from the outside. It’s almost shameful to talk about art, or even ‘opinion’. Sure, there are some voices, but not much compared to the books you read from the 60s or 70s.

Is there a link between drop in mythological belief and a drop in productivity growth? I don’t know, I am probably just matching patterns.

But mythology is central to being human. It passes the Lindy test. We have, as a species, almost always been driven by stories of the supernatural. They appeal to something deep within our soul. And maybe when we deny that, we cannot reach the nooks where innovation lies.

But maybe I am just matching random patterns. Even pattern-matching is a human need.

One thought on “Mythology and Innovation

  1. Pingback: Unicorns, Dragons and Galactic worlds – Curated Intelligence

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