When in Doubt, Copy

Mark Earls On Originality from The School of Life on Vimeo.

What's the best strategy for a social creature to interact with other social creatures in lots of different ways? The winning strategy is — copying.

Your ability to outsource the cognitive load that copying represents means you are never alone. You are a conduit for and access of other people's thoughts and ideas. Culture, says Earls in this long-ish talk is nothing more and nothing less than the accumulated wisdom and experience of other people.

Culture doesn't give you the right rules for living. It just makes it much easier to make decisions in very uncertain landscapes.

This is something we discussed at a couple of conferences in Europe and Latin America this past year. Independent thinking is advantageous in times of moderate cultural change.

At the two opposite ends of the spectrum:

  • no change creates no incentive for independent thinking — we are encoded to conserve energy when this is the case, as there is no special incentive to do more than necessary
  • maximum change creates too much risk for independent thinking — the name of the game here becomes how fast we can copy what everyone else is doing to stay ahead

To be clear, there is value in social learning. For one, because awareness that we are not alone in what we feel and experience is actually the key to making our experiences less fragmented and daunting. Connection is about empathy and collaboration.



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