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How to Survive Our Faster Future

By Joi Ito and Jeff Howe
  • Read in 12 minutes
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  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Whiplash by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe

Whiplash (2016) explains the new rules of our fast-changing world. The current moment is defined by emergent technologies and innovative ideas, and the only way to stay afloat is to adapt. Forget the principles of yesterday and start developing strategies that work today.

Key idea 1 of 7

Paradigms can prevent the recognition of great innovations.

If you throw a baseball up in the air, it’s going to come down, right? Or what if you fly north in an airplane with limitless fuel? Well, you’ll eventually come back to where you took off.

So why do these answers seem so commonsensical?

Well, it’s because they chime with our current paradigm – that is, the worldview that underlies our theories about how things should function. Part of that paradigm is gravity, which causes airborne balls to return to earth and prevents airplanes from floating off into space. But, as the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn points out, paradigms can shift.

Paradigm shifts entirely revolutionize commonly held beliefs. And since people will defend their beliefs at almost any cost, these shifts are usually strongly resisted. Even most scientists will defend current paradigms.

For instance, before the Copernican Revolution in the sixteenth century, it was believed that the sun orbited the earth, and many scientists continued to believe this for decades, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

But nonscientific paradigms exist as well, and are often just as ingrained. Each age comes with a different set of social assumptions and theories. According to the French philosopher Michel Foucault, people have certain systems of norms and beliefs that dictate their actions. These systems change over time, and every generation has its own. As in science, they usually don’t change without vigorous resistance.

The unquestioning acceptance of current paradigms, plus a resistance to paradigm shifts, has prevented the acknowledgment of history's greatest innovations.

Take Louis and Auguste Lumière, the brothers who developed the first “living photographs” – later known as motion pictures – in 1895.

Audiences were initially captivated by the moving images. But it only took a few years for the novelty to wear off, prompting one of the brothers to declare that “the cinema is an invention without any future.” Consequently, the brothers opted to focus on color photography.

So why could neither the brothers nor the audience see the true potential of this new medium? Well, they were committed to an old paradigm, according to which photos were only capable of telling the story of a single moment, not spinning longer, complex tales. It didn’t even occur to them to transform pictures into the modern “film.”

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