How to grow a wheel - it's not how smart you are, it's how often you iterate.
Advantage we have over Incas is we (people educated & wealthy enough to be reading HN) get to choose our contexts, to a significant extent --> lots of wheels get invented.
From the wiki: "Eurasia as a whole domesticated 13 species of large animals (over 100lb / 44 kg); South America just one (counting the llama and alpaca as breeds within the same species); the rest of the world none at all."
It would seem rather pointless to make a cart with wheels and all, just to pull it yourself. Your neighbors would laugh at your claims of "reducing labor via my remarkable time-saving invention on par with the latest SCRUM practices or even ShamWOW!"
In the lowlands less than 100 miles away, ideal terrain for wheeled conveyances, they had no llamas. They also had wheels, albeit tiny wheels attached to toys.
It wasn't that they were astonishingly stupid to not understand the wheel- they had wheels, for their toys. It was, instead, that they had no other use for it.
... and yet, and yet - the wheelbarrow is an extremely useful machine.
That's the essential point. Much of the Old World was a single area for long-distance trade and conquest, and the chariot in particular spread the idea of horse-drawn wheeled vehicles to many places where that technology was not invented, but rather adopted from invading peoples.
Kind of sounds like some of the answers I used to put on extra credit sections of tests when I wasn't sure : )
I think the more interesting and pertinent question, which he barely touched on, is why do some societies invent and adopt things and put them to all kinds of use while other societies either don't invent them or invent them without ever adapting and applying them to their full potential?
Taking off my PC hat, I think this probably describes the difference between a stagnant civilization and a dynamic one. (Bet I'll get the downmods for that one!)
This may also be why:
Likely the chieftan was quite fond of telling about how many people died to move his rock. If you can do dumb shit, and stay chief, you must be a powerful chief indeed.
Which is to assert that one also needs the right motives before invention.
You must invent 2 wheels, an axle and something to attach them to. Thus you have a use for the wheel as a starting point.
However wheels do not allow you to haul large super-heavy blocks for pyramid construction, you need a bunch of wooden sticks and manpower at best.
So yea a wheel was quite a unique invention. I am willing to bet 3000 years from now if humans still exist, someone will be saying "yea I can't believe people lived without this electricity thing... its so damn obvious! A two-year old can invent it."
"People" is not only the plural of person... it carries several meanings, in this context : "The entire body of persons who constitute a community, tribe, nation, or other group by virtue of a common culture, history, religion, or the like: the people of Australia; the Jewish people."