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What do bored monks, Luddites, John Steinbeck, and Innovators have in common?

Author: Nick Ando

In 1465 a plague of boredom spread through the monks in Europe. This was due to change in the labour market that continues to haunt workers to this very day: mechanization. This change, for the monks, though, was not wrought by artificial intelligence, but rather a complex arrangement of screws, bolt, and plates: the printing press.

The monks entered a short period of excruciating boredom as one of their main purposes – the copying and illustrating of books - had been rendered irrelevant, and, as they returned to their mundane daily activities, they would curse the day the printing press had been invented. Perhaps, though, boring a few monks was a worthwhile cost for the explosive development that spread through Europe as a result of this innovation. The printing press is an early example of human capital being drastically surpassed, in efficiency, by mechanization.

From 1811 to 1817 the Luddites would storm textile factories in England. As if fighting for their lives, they would throw themselves upon the perpetrators of a grave injustice. The cacophony of the short-lived skirmishes resounded through the streets, and the metallic guts of Luddite's enemies plastered the floors. The Luddites had declared war upon all the labour-saving machinery that had put them out of their jobs. While sewing machines had made Britain more efficient and richer, they were guilty of reducing jobs and leaving many unemployed.

John Steinbeck wrote his novel 'Grapes of Wrath' on the struggles of farmers driven from their homes during the great depression. Among the many problems these farmers faced, the worst was the profit driven government which had sold off much of their land to large companies who sought to improve the productivity of the farms through mechanization. The farmers became vagabonds in their own country, wandering from state to state in search of employment. The fortunate found jobs, and the rest had to resign themselves to a life of abject poverty.

This brings us to the final link in the metaphorical chain: innovators. Innovators have a two-fold illustrative purpose: in every instance of development they both the driving force behind the innovation as well as being untouched by the potential fallout, they ride on the crest of the societal wave.

Secondly, as society moves toward a totally mechanized society, innovators will go from being the most valuable human capital to the only human capital. Some, more traditional, companies will seek laborious redress through the legal system.

How to protect innovators from having their ideas and livelihood stolen without affecting the process of innovation itself is an important question for the future. Development is driven by innovation and innovation is driven by innovators: they are the key to unlocking what the future holds for us. 

Image courtesy of olovedog at

Tagged under: leadership, Innovation,

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