QUARANTINED LEARNING: Understanding How Innovation Works Through the CORONA VIRUS and thus be an INNOVATOR

It is day two of the 21 days of the corona virus country lockdown in South Africa. Lets’ stay safe and follow the recommended precautions.

Scientists around the world are working tirelessly to find a cure for this *ucken flu.

I am not a scientist. I am an entrepreneur and writer and I love breaking down innovation patterns, and so I thought let me get a class in session while we are at home quarantined.

This post teaches how the innovation of manmade things works and how any of us can have a mind for it and thus do it.

It steals bits of concepts from my upcoming 6th book draft-titled ‘Innovate Next.’

We are going to survive this pandemic.

I will use coronavirus analogously a bit to describe how innovation works and how we all can have a mind to be innovators.

I am not trying to insensitive in any way. It’s here, we are afraid of it, but let us keep the hope that we will beat it. This is the spirit to hold.

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This coronavirus is called COVID-19. Coronavirus (coronaviruses) is a group of severe respiratory diseases. It is flu in general terms. Remember SARS? It falls within this family.

The ‘19’ in COVID-19 signifies that it came about in 2019.

Every year new types of flu come up and but are mostly defeated with medicine. Breakouts there and there happen but it is not to such pandemic levels.

God save us.


COVID-19 (I will call it coronavirus for common simplicity) is novel. Meaning it is new and has not been there before (at least to us humans). Perhaps it existed in other animals as the claims go. But we will call it novel because we humans think we are the only important thing in the animal kingdom.

And there is no cure or vaccine for it as yet.

Novelty and innovation in biology and manmade things

I will get to how the innovation of manmade things happens. I will start with biology and connect manmade innovation at the bottom.

Humans are biological innovation. Nature created us. The science says all living things under the biology tree have a common ancestor, i.e. we share a DNA with one ancestor.

The biology tree of life (AKA biology kingdom) includes animals, plants, fungi, protists, bacteria and archaea.

Let me quickly give a rundown of how evolutionary biology says we got here.

The first lives formed in the first waters on earth. They were a novelty. It was single-cell organisms (bacteria and archaea). They reproduced asexually through dividing: They’d get fat/bigger and break into other single-cell organisms.

Then a sort of incest like convergence happened. They conjugated and started reproducing sexually.

The convergence is what tipped asexual reproduction to sexual reproduction. A new novelty was formed.

This is how multicellular organism came about (they are a coming together of single-cell organisms). They were a novelty at their first evolution into being.

Different tipping points of convergence kept happening and the evolution of new species happened.

Different tipping points made life branch out to what we understand it today as the six kingdoms of life: animals, plants, fungi, protists, bacteria and archaea.

How innovation happens

Innovation happens when things are stacked. The two single-cell organisms converging was the stacking. Then other new species evolved.

Manmade innovations also happen through the stacking of two or more things. I will get to this shortly.

There is a biological theory by Stuart A. Kauffman called ‘The Adjacent Possible.’ It says every new development/evolution in biology adjacently gives possibilities to other innovations, and those innovations are dependent on current environment allowing.

For example, when the first life formed in the waters of the earth, i.e. single-cell organisms, the unknown possibility (in hindsight) was that these single-cell organisms adjoining would result into the evolution (emergence) of multi-cell organisms.

The earth’s environment allowed this to happen. The earth forming through a cosmic bang (go read the big bang theory) in the galaxy 4.6 billion years ago, gave the possibility to the first life on earth, i.e. single-cell organisms.

The earth formed through a cosmic bang and later on it cooled down. The steam from the cooling down and the water from incoming meteorites filled the earth with water and oceans formed.

In Science for Dummies terms (like me, and maybe you Sir/Mam), there were chemicals on the land and water, which then got mixed into producing the first biological life. ‘From nonliving matter came living matter.’

The earth’s evolving conditions allowed all evolutions at their times, i.e. the cooling down steam evolving to oceans and oceans and land mixing to have the first life.

To push the point that an environment is an enabler, at one point, before humans, there was not enough oxygen on earth for humans and today’s animals to live. By the way, humans are also animals – it is just that we think we are special not be labelled animals. HELLO ANIMALS!

Anyway, there was no molecular oxygen for the first 2 billion years of earth’s history (21 percent of the air we breathe is made up of molecular oxygen). Plants branched out from the waters and their photosynthesis added more oxygen to the atmosphere. Then the earth’s oxygen levels rose (oxygen is formed by plants through their photosynthesis).

Oxygen levels rising gave an adjacent possibility for humans and other animals to form (evolve).

We evolved into humans. The earth’s changing environment allowed what was us before to be us today as humans (or call us Homo Sapiens as evolutionary science calls us). Just like single-cell organisms converged to tip-off multicellular organisms, many other things happened for evolution to finally produce us and other species.

We came into being through evolution. We share ancestors with monkeys and apes. They are our evolutionary cousins. Say hi to your cousins the next time you see them.

Manmade innovation

Let me first define ‘adjacent possible’ in other simpler and workable terms.

‘Adjacent’ in dictionary terms means nearest in space or adjoining immediately with intervening space. It already refers to more than one side – because you cannot adjoin one thing.

I said innovation is the stacking of two or more things: Like in biological innovation, the first unicellular organisms adjoined to produce multi-cellular organisms.

So, adjacent ‘possible’ means the possibility of the ‘what can be’ of when two or more things are near each other and thus definitely stacked.

I will give inferential examples below that might not be historically correct a hundred percent, but are true enough to bring understanding analogously.

A chair is a stack of a geometric seating shape for humans (I am sure a monkey would not sit comfortably on a chair than a human) and hard material. The hard material could be wood, steel or plastic.

I imagine the first chair was created with wood. Then when steel was invented, someone decided to create a steel chair; then came plastic and someone decided to design a plastic chair; then someone innovated a chair out of a mixture of wood, plastic and steel.

Someone decided that adding cushion would take the innovation to better levels. And they did it.

Before a seating shape and wood, a chair was an adjacent possible innovation. Before steel, a steel chair was an adjacent possible.

All this is possible because of the environment. The earth provides the trees. Plants moving on to land was a change in the environment and the changing environment allowed possibilities of chairs. Guard damn the trees gave possibilities of humans evolving into humans.

At all the stages of the types of chairs first being created, they were novel like COVID-19 is novel today.

To innovate a novel thing (a manmade innovation), your thinking has to be what I can adjoin to create a novel thing.

At some stage, a couch was novel because someone created it first. They thought a couch would be something innovative and useful for the human body. And it was.

Someone then innovated a recliner chair. And it was novel.

Novel innovation is adding another component that adds new efficiency and agility.

A chair is efficient because it allows humans to sit and rest. It is agile because it is better than sitting on a rock.

Innovation follows efficiency and agility. An MP3 disc is efficient than an audio CD because it carries more songs. And that is also agility. An iPod carries more songs than an MP3 disc and thus it was more efficient. It was agile as it fitted in a pocket. Disc players were larger than iPods.

Today we have music streaming which is more efficient and agile than iPods and discs. You can stream and play your Spotify music on your phone, home computer, work computer, another person’s computer, over Bluetooth speakers, etc.

Innovation borrows across industries.

Internet technology was mainly used by the military in the beginning. Academics borrowed it with the World Wide Web applications. Then it went mainstream and global. Now the internet is used for many social activities, streaming music being one of them. 

You can take products or technologies used in one industry and fuse to other industries. 3D printing is now used in biology. Recently a Pretoria doctor – Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and his team at the University of Pretoria – performed the world’s first middle ear transplant by 3D printing ear bones. This is mixing 3D printing with biology: it is biotechnology.

Biotechnology is the fusing of technology and medical science.

Imagine the adjacent possibilities of the creation of the first combustion engine (an engine that burns something – e.g. petrol or coal – to propel a mechanical reaction).

  • A steam train was innovated. It burned water and produced steam and the steam-propelled/agitated pistons to move and thus move the train.
  • Then someone engineered an engine that combusts fuel (petrol or diesel)
  • With that, someone innovated an automobile/car.
  • Then a gas lawnmower.
  • Then an aeroplane
  • Electricity was innovated. Then came many things, e.g. electric lawnmowers. Electric trains. Today we have electric cars.

Being innovative therefore means one has to have knowledge and discipline to indulge in a variety of fields. To have innovated a chair, you would have had to know and figure that a tree can be cut down to dry and then carved into a sitting shape. And know which kinds of trees make good and strong chairs. It is knowledge of the types of trees/wood, carving, and design/aesthetics.

Innovation is the stacking of various things.

The coronavirus could be a stack of many other things. But now its concoction is so novel that it is tougher and urgently pandemic to find a cure for.

Maybe today’s environment (allowing environment) makes it easy for us to be epically affected by viruses: atmospheric pollution, unhealthy eating, reduction on body mobility, too much smoking, etc).

I trust these scientists will find a cure. They did for novel diseases like polio and malaria. They just have to mix and stack this and that. And like the doctor (Professor Mashudu Tshifularo) who performed the world’s first 3D ear transplant by borrowing from 3D technology, they’d also maybe have to borrow somewhere. They’d have to immerse themselves into various disciplines. I.e. human biology and studying other animals (apparently the coronavirus comes from pangolins).

They will be innovative.

You too can be innovative. In these 21 days, you can add to your skill sets. A variety of skills/disciplines and insights in various disciplines allows you to see the future, i.e. the adjacent possible. You can adjoin things m&*%fucker. By adjoining them, you become the novel innovator.

Today’s environment has so many innovations that the adjacent possible is greater. It just needs connectors.

In the words of Kendrick Lamar, ‘nigga, we gon’ be alright.’

God save us all.

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Below are the other articles I’ve written on understanding and breaking down innovation and the career advantages of being a doer even on a hobby level:

  • THE HUMAN GREED PYRAMID: An Illustration of How Innovations Interrelate With Humans’ Consumption Patterns and Natural Inclinations, and How to Plot Innovation That Works on Humans https://buff.ly/2tTPUGu
  • A simple understanding of what is the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Why and how Industrial Revolutions form, and to how to take part in them https://buff.ly/3by7Jyt
  • A Timeline Of Industrial Revolutions Versus South Africa | DID YOU KNOW: The 4th Industrial Revolution Is The First Industrial Revolution South Africa Is Experiencing As A Free And Democratic Country https://buff.ly/33Z7yK8
  • How to Have Fun Outside The Education System https://buff.ly/2PKDgm9

Find my books including ‘The Anxious Entrepreneur here www.tiisetsomaloma.co.za/books.