Get in Tune with the Spirit of Our Time



Zeitgeist (tsīt'gīst) : the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time - Oxford Dictionaries

Consider this. Newness is not what you think it is. Neither is genius, creativity, or innovation.

How we live our lives – our beliefs, values, behaviors, and rituals – are all based off a succession of interconnected historical ideas, events, and phenomenon packaged up and passed down, over time, through the institutions, laws, and customs that govern us. 

As our knowledge and interpretation of the world shift so do our perceptions and ultimately lifestyle. The version of the truth that we live by is just that – a version. Nevertheless this version influences each and every one of us more than we realize.

Those we credit with being trendsetters, inventors, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs, are merely conduits for this underlying current – or ethos – that defines our time. The rebels, hipsters, and liberals too, fight against one norm only to unknowingly succumb to another. 

The greatest innovations of mankind were not created in a vacuum. No one man can stake claim to any idea even if it materialized in his own head, as its inspiration can surely be traced beyond him.

These may be difficult thoughts to stomach.

As individuals and businesses we like to believe that we make unique contributions to the world we live in. We want to be pathfinders, pioneers, and trailblazers.

Well, we are. It's what defines mankind on both an individual and societal level. Though it seems we ignore, or perhaps are ignorant to, the driving forces behind each generation's accomplishments (including our own).

There's an ongoing debate amongst philosophers, scientists, professors, businessmen, and creatives, around the origin of ideas, the cause of innovation, and the factors that spur leadership.

I share the viewpoint of George Hegel, German philosopher, who stated: "no man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of the time is also his own spirit".

What's particularly startling about zeitgeist is the multiple discover phenomenon. Findings like this give me goose bumps. It almost makes the concept of innovation (as we tend to see it) null and void, and stresses the extent to which ideas are a product of their environment. 

The pages of the history of science record thousands of instances of similar discoveries having been made by scientists working independently of one another. Sometimes the discoveries are simultaneous or almost so; sometimes a scientist will make anew a discovery which, unknown to him, somebody else had made years before.
Such occurrences suggest that discoveries become virtually inevitable when prerequisite kinds of knowledge and tools accumulate in man's cultural store and when the attention of an appreciable number of investigators becomes focused on a problem, by emerging social needs, by developments internal to the science, or by both.
The sheer fact that multiple discoveries are made by scientists working independently of one another testifies to the fact that, though remote in space, they are responding to much the same social and intellectual forces that impinge upon them all.

I'm not discouraged by these findings and neither should any other thinker, creator, or entrepreneur, that aspires to greatness. The catch here is that perhaps you can simplify your path by working with the spirit instead of against it. 

Source: Excerpt from "Resistance to the Systematic Study of Multiple Discoveries in Science" by Robert Merton. Eur. J. Sociol. 4:237-82, 1963. 

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