28th okt, 2011

Fantastic column on innovation

Sometimes you come across a text that seem to put things into perspective and change your view on the world. I love that kind of texts.
Now one of my favorite authors Neal Stephenson – who´s stories have rocked my world view several times – have published a column in Wired about innovation. The column has a unique perspective on the possibilities for innovation in the world today.
In the column “Innovation starvation” Stephenson points to the fact that earlier ages major achievements have not been matched by todays innovation. We have no space program, no nuclear invention, no giant leaps for mankind (Iphone 4S might be cool but won’t even leap over a burnt match).
Stephenson blames this situation on the fear of failure and the access to information. About the first he says “Today’s belief in ineluctable certainty is the true innovation-killer of our age. In this environment, the best an audacious manager can do is to develop small improvements to existing systems — climbing the hill, as it were, toward a local maximum, trimming fat, eking out the occasional tiny innovation — like city planners painting bicycle lanes on the streets as a gesture toward solving our energy problems.”
About the second he says “Most people who work in corporations or academia have witnessed something like the following: A number of engineers are sitting together in a room, bouncing ideas off each other. Out of the discussion emerges a new concept that seems promising. Then some laptop-wielding person in the corner, having performed a quick Google search, announces that this “new” idea is, in fact, an old one — or at least vaguely similar — and has already been tried.”
When I read the text the truth of it seemed very strong to me. His column describes situations I have been in many times. The risk averse approach to innovation results in the bar being set very low. The concept of incremental innovation has invaded out whole approach to innovation.
So what to do?
We need to live with the high bar not just think we set it and leave it there. At a workshop this week one of the participants scoffed at one of the goals set by another participant dismissing it as impossible. With Stephensons column in mind what is needed is to set that impossible bar and get cracking.
Maybe it’s because its Friday and I’m seduced by the text but I really really want to make a space elevator, create synthetic nonpolluting fuels and other great achievements. I want to eat in big chunks not in small bites.

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