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Idea Machines

May 24, 2019

In this conversation Sam Arbesman and I talk about unlocking cross-disciplinary innovations, long term organizations, combinatorial creativity and much more. As you might expect from someone with Generalist Thinking as a main area of interest, Sam has out-of-the-box insights in a ton of domains and he's amazing at capturing them in tight concepts like "knowledge mining" and "jargon barriers."

By day Sam is the Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital. Don't cite me on it but I think he may be the only person with that job title in the world. In the past he's done research in complexity science and history and the two of them combined, written books, and worked in non profits.


Key Takeaways

  1. The concept of knowledge mining - recombining existing knowledge to create new knowledge.
  2. Unintuitively, Video games may secretly be some of the most powerful cross-disciplinary research labs.
  3. There are tactics you can use to generate cross-disciplinary creativity by cultivating a bit of randomness in your life.


T-Shaped Individuals

Sam on Twitter

Sam's Website

Small World Networks


Undiscovered Public Knowledge (and a 10-year update)


Kongō Gumi - the 1400 year company

The Red Queen Hypothesis

Other content from Sam:



Favorite examples of combinations of ideas via generalists

Ref: Small world networks paper

T shaped individuals

Attempts towards systemic cross-discipline idea sharing

Don Swanson - undiscovered public knowledge

Jargon Barriers

Jefferson West Uwash - topographical map of fields

Combinatorial creativity

Systems for increasing the rewards for broad thinking vs. specialized thinking

Need to define complexity science

Computer games as a place that rewards generalist research

Meta portfolio for generalist institution

Self-sustaining insitutions and criteria for them

Reinventing selves

Or provide something people always want

Japanese construction company that lasted 1500 years

IBM original machines

The Red Queen Hypothesis wrt Organizations

Model that you need massive innovations to sustain growth (look up professor)

Does the VC funding research paradigm constrain what can exist?

Wired magazine researcher - "everyone loves the big idea that changes the world, but what about the ones that make a difference?"

The importance of different approaches to making things exist

How do you know if small ideas and tweaks in complex systems have intended effects?

Promoting randomness and optionality

What are tactics for increasing randomness and optionality?

Randomly reminding about books

Go to crazy different conferences