In one sense, there are no new inventions. All technological creations are simply combinations of existing physical elements. What makes something new and remarkable isn’t its pieces; it’s how they fit together. Human ideas fit things together, and human perceptions value the new whole. Those new wholes, in turn, become pieces for future inventions.

One of the greatest, most definitive assertions that a “whole” innovation is greater than the sum of its parts is in the movie Flash of Genius. During one of the courtroom scenes, Robert Kearns, the inventor suing Ford and Chrysler for patent infringement, sarcastically argues that Charles Dickens should be discredited for his novel The Tale of Two Cities because Dickens simply rearranged words that already existed.

People constantly create by recycling. It’s what we do whether we’re engineers, writers, doctors, or hair stylists. The human experience is one of endless mixing. We’re constantly making new recipes by combining physical and metaphysical ingredients.

The 21st century will see more recipes than any other so far.

I don’t think we can quite yet grasp the power of information sharing over the internet. It’s still too new, and there has been nothing like it so far.

Before the web, we only had books and hearsay. Books are wonderful, but their reach is limited by physical, educational, political, and geographical factors.

As broadband-powered networks penetrate more and more vacuums, the winds of information and innovation will blow harder.

Every bit of information you share online is like a little karmic breeze that could turn into anything from a draft to a gale.

In 2002, William Kamkwamba, a 14-year-old boy in Africa decided to both harness and make a few breezes of his own. He started building a windmill. He did it because he never found out he couldn’t.

The only ingredients he needed were a book and the physical elements at his disposal: discarded scraps, blue gum trees, an old bicycle wheel, and wind.

By themselves, these remains of former organic and inorganic innovations are insignificant. But combined with human will and creativity, they become remarkable – a windmill that could serve as a symbol for green energy production in Africa, maybe the world.

Here is William Kamkwamba at a 2007 TED conference: [Flash]


Now imagine that windmill powering a broadband modem.