Our future depends on reinventing and re-energizing our social institutions and bonds. Progress relies on both new technologies and new social arrangements to liberate and direct human creativity, knowledge, and energy. At times, technologies have catalyzed social progress. Fire and cooking enabled more efficient nutrition, and freed up time for exploration. Roads and viaducts sped transportation and improved public health. Drawing, writing, and later the printing press enabled the accumulation and spread of knowledge, as well as abstract thought itself. The internet hyper-accelerated our global capacity to create and share information, commerce, and understanding. But social innovation has played an even greater role in spurring progress–including breakthrough technologies. Agriculture began in small groups, but its organized spread formed the basis for markets and money, and the creation of governmental, religious, and educational institutions. The erosion of monarchies and the rise of merchant classes sped trade in goods and ideas. The American constitution encoded and accelerated self government. Public health measures radically increased the average human life span, and universal education spurred rapid social and economic development.
In the past two decades, we’ve seen seen explosive growth in bio-, info-, and nano-technologies. But in many respects our social structures–in education, health, and government itself–have not kept pace. While the potential and need for social progress is now greater than ever, its record in recent years has lagged. Institutionalized structures and practices that reward waste and pollution have caused massive environmental destruction. The concentration and deregulation of financial power has led to worldwide economic crisis. Billions of children and adults who could contribute to future progress are malnourished and poorly educated. Fortunately, we believe that a new force for social innovation is being born, one that we call “collective invention.”