“Growing mangoes in Iceland”: How social media and online communities enable an antifragile and propitiously unpredictable innovation model

Online communities, in combination with innovation contests and social media, can create a context for ground-breaking innovation. Coalesced communications, accompanied by the long-standing "Hacker Ethic", and bolstered by the increasing prevalence of inexpensive tools such as the 3D printer and Raspberry Pi, have re-invigorated an older model of innovation whereby the tinkerer and hobbyist were positioned as a main source of invention. This paper states that this innovation model, following the ideas of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, can be accurately described as “Antifragile”: i.e., it is not solely dependent on the success of one inventor, and can be geared to become stronger through the “failure” of individual projects and the sharing of data. Evidence is also presented which shows that this paradigm can also lead to "happy accidents", following Morton Meyers' assertion that "Three things are certain about discovery: Discovery is unpredictable. Discovery requires serendipity. Discovery is a creative act" (Meyers, 2011, p.24). For example, an innovation contest in 2014 hosted by the online electronics engineering community element14 whose original intent was to create a new "networked pollution sensor" instead enabled the development of a Carbon Monoxide detector for Latvian classrooms, a dust sensor for Singaporean streets, and an algal bloom detector for water supplies in the Philippines. As this example suggests, this paper also argues that setting ambiguous goals can inspire the aforementioned “happy accidents” that could potentially “grow mangoes in Iceland”; too tightly defined aims can diminish the potential for this form of innovation.