There is this saying that (I am paraphrasing from memory) many small people in many small villages will change the world. As with many sayings there are of course things that are (at least partially) wrong. For instance, on average the level of innovation per capita is larger in a bigger city than in a small village. But, also as usual, this saying contains profound truth: it is indeed small people, one by one, some times even just one, who change the world.
What got me thinking about this is a video I stumbled upon on YouTube. It is a talk delivered by Salman Khan, a former hedge-fund analyst, who is the founder of Khan Academy. His Academy teaches a “standard” school curriculum for free to people all over the world, and all that via the Internet. It is an amazing story, and as oh so many stories it started small: as a one-person endeavour. His Academy, through the power of the Internet, has already changed how we conceive of learning. Of course, the success of his endeavour is not just due to the incredible likeable personality of Khan himself, but also due to a whole legion of programmers, analysts, etc. behind the scenes. But it took one person, Khan, to get it all started.
My version of the aforementioned saying is thus: the right idea, put forth by the right person, at the right time, at the right place, in the right manner, will change the world. This is the story of us, this is the story of civilisation. One of these conditions, the place, has already changed due to the Internet. It might seem only a little thing, that any idea can be heard by everyone else, irrespective of where they live, since this condition is just one out of four. So it got, let’s say, 25% easier for an idea to proliferate. Why should we care? Well, as with all non-linear threshold phenomena, it might take less change than expected to go from a rather weak amplification of novel ideas to truly exponential or even super-exponential growth for any good idea to be uttered by anyone alive. Just try to imagine how this could change the world.