Ideas that change the world

Einstein’s famous E = mc2 was expressed in a mere three pages, yet the concept that mass is merely concentrated energy has changed the world. Illnesses being caused by bacteria and viruses is a very recent concept, yet again it is now taken as a given. University, in my experience, is more about learning a relatively small number of key concepts that are able to apply across contexts than it is about learning piles of useless and quickly forgotten formulae and rules.

What are the ideas that have changed your mind?

The Financial Times has identified a number of significant books in their shortlist:

  • The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson
    Mass market economics gives advantage to those products and services that are in high demand, but as borders come down and the global village shrinks, we are seeing parts of the market able to be serviced that were previously too small. Exemplar: Amazon can stock millions of books that an ordinary bookstore – even one the size of Borders – cannot stock because the proportion of the market is too small in a geographically limited market.
  • Small Giants, by Bo Burlingham
    Profitability for a company will be maximised when that firm focuses upon being excellent at what it does best, rather than trying to grow until the diseconomies of scale are unavoidable.
  • The Wal-Mart Effect, by Charles Fishman
    Some companies create market forces as much as being subject to them and other insights available by speaking directly with former executives.
  • China Shakes the World, by James Kynge
    The growth of China is directly impacting the lives of much of the world. As it grows, we are seeing strengths and weaknesses evolve. One thing is certain: There is even more to come!
  • The Box, by Marc Levinson
    Container ships criss-cross the world with the products of globalisation. Entrepreneur Malcom McLean (1914-2001) created the container concept, and made possible the global goods trade system as we know it today. This guy bought a truck for $120 in 1934 but the company ended up with 1770 trucks; he sold his interest for $25,000,000 in 1955. But it was his next venture where he really revolutionised things: Containerisation allowed him to cut the stevedoring charges from $5.83/ton down to just 16c/ton!!! The increasing move towards mechanisation made his innovation even more successful. His containers won patent protection, but then he kept a step ahead of Apple’s mistakes by granting the International Standards Organisation a royalty free lease because he realised that industry grown was more powerful than patent protection. By 1969 – just 14 years after he had exited the trucking business – he sold his interest for $160,000,000. The company is now part of Mærsk.

There are many amazing concepts available today. One of the most important in my mind is that structuring access to information is as important or more important today than the information itself; that the immense quantity of information available to us simultaneously democratises information and increases the value of brands as a way of streamlining our information filtering system. But that’s why I usually read the TP Wire Service

2 comments on “Ideas that change the world

  1. You are right about University, it provides the grounding for advanced learning. Unfortunately though today, Universities seem to be places to peddle excessive information which is not learn by steps and a lot of students seem to be at a loss to understand what they are learning and become lost in an information overload. I believe that the Scholarship system and obtaining a place in University by merit is better than what has occurred today. A person should want to go to University to learn rather than go to University because they have too. Why not adopt the American model where it is High School, then College and then University? If you want people to advance their learning, not having the middle grounding perhaps makes it a loss for kids today to understand the very concept of attending University.

  2. The rate of information growth has outstripped the rate of increased learning acquisition technology, the result being that we’re feeding people massive volumes of information that will largely be out of date by the time that it is applied.

    I think it’s dangerous to assert why people ‘should’ want go to University, and nobody ‘has to go’. In terms of learning and productivity outcomes, Australia still outstrips America on most scales; we need to upgrade the quality of our educational experiences, not just postpone useful learning. Let’s actually give people great access to high quality information and and perhaps even inspire them with ways that they might apply it.

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