I like Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs & Steel which is now showing as a documentary on PBS.The Putlizer prize winning study of how some cultures and civilizationsmay have succeeded over others because of different inventions in theirhistory, suggests that back in some primitive time, it all started witha geographical advantage: good geography, climate, and luck of the drawin terms of wildlife (potential livestock) led to successful transitionfrom a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian one.
The progress started with people found new ways of supplying the basicneeds, and as the supply increased, this allowed new professions, andskills to rise. The general statement is that the surplus of availableresources is what allowed people to develop their knowledge to newlevels. It took a long time and often different situations for somejobs to come about but that's how it starts. It could take a dozenfarmers to supply a village enough that one metalsmith might becomenecessary and useful; perhaps a hundred more for merchant; a thousandfor a philosopher, and so on.
That nugget around a surplus of resources I think still holds true inthe information age. The resources we are talking about here are ideas.It may take many, many ideas to come forward, before new viableopportunities arise.
Take this with what people in community and social networking havealways said: the combined value of people in a network is significantly(perhaps even exponentially) better than the sum of individuals in it.(Reed or Metcalfe's "law"). This means that the greater number ofpeople interacting in the network, the more ideas become available,leading to that surplus.
You need to cultivate the full environment of idea exchange,irrespective of whether a high percentage of them lead to a success.Often we miss sight of the need for a surplus, in the popular cultureof seeking to "turn every lead into a sale". What is really necessaryare ways to better support interaction and engagement between people,keeping track of commonalities, and analyzing the leads to try to finda few really good ones.
Community and social computing