University of Maryland

Innovation & Entrepreneurship Reading Group: Innovation Meets Institution

April 13th, 2015 by

Innovation Meets Institution, Invitation #11

The ancestors of pandas were actually carnivorous and so their true anatomical thumbs were committed to the limited motion suited for meat eating. When adaptation to a diet of bamboo required more flexibility in manipulation, pandas could not redesign their thumbs but had to make do with an enlarged radial sesamoid bone of the wrist. The panda’s false thumb is clumsy, but it works.

What do panda’s thumb and technological innovations have in common? After all, constraints of genealogy do not apply to technologies such as typewriter, car, and computer. The panda cannot shuck its digits, but designers can easily add or abandon features and functions for the technologies they develop. Yet, according to Stephen Jay Gould, both panda’s thumb and technology are subject to a general principle of change, which he called the “panda principle.”

On Monday, April 13, 2-3 pm, in Hornbake 2116, at the 11th meeting of the iSchool Innovation & Entrepreneurship Reading Group, we will unpack the “panda principle” and discuss (1) why apparently suboptimal designs come to spread widely and become “taken-for-granted” and (2) how such “path dependent” technologies interact with institutions such as library, archive, museum, corporation, K-12 schools, university, and government. Light, healthy refreshments will be provided.

On April 13, we will discuss the following article:
Gould, S. J. “The Panda’s Thumb of Technology,” Natural History (96:1), 1987, pp. 14-23, available at

Jenny Cotton, a Master of Library Science (MLS) student at Maryland’s iSchool, will lead the discussion.

The iSchool Innovation & Entrepreneurship Reading Group ( aims to disseminate and advance knowledge of innovation and entrepreneurship. In Spring 2015, we meet on Mondays, 2-3 pm to discuss classic and new articles on key issues in innovation and entrepreneurship, in conjunction with INST 621: Managing Digital Innovations in Organizations. All members (students, staff, and faculty) of the UMD community are welcome to attend any session. This group is sponsored by the Center for the Advanced Study of Communities and Information (CASCI) and hosted by Dr. Ping Wang ( See our full schedule at .