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Innovation still requires smart, even barmy, innovators

Innovation update

It was exciting to read the compliments paid to Sir Clive Sinclair, the strange British inventor of the ZX Spectrum personal home computer. The person who died last week.. For countless users, the introduction of Sinclair’s cheap and clunky machines in 1982 was the first encounter with the magical potential of computers. “An absolute genius with just the right amount of savagery to be the right British boffin,” wrote one commenter. Register memorial page..

Sinclair was famous not only for success but also for failure. But it only seemed to feed the praise of his followers. Kindly, both his C5 electric tricycle and portable TV were ahead of the curve. Not very kind, but both were terrible products. Still, the inventor’s fascination with technology and his optimism about rust prevention made many others experiment and dreamy.

We’re just a colorful personal story, trumpeting the role of a good individual in innovation, but increased research suggests that they are mostly associated with the process. .. If John Smith hadn’t invented this kit today, Jane Smith would probably invent it tomorrow. From this point of view, technological improvements do not result from the sudden flash of individual inspiration, but from an almost mechanical process: the accumulation of small, gradual, collective benefits.

A prime example is how researchers from several different companies and laboratories developed different Covid-19 vaccines based on the same scientific knowledge. This chimes with the idea that musician Brian Eno is the collective result of a creative community. LandscapeIs more important than any individual genius.

This idea is New academic treatise Based on empirical data from a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on improvements in 30 technical areas over the last 30 years or so. “Many things are happening in the same space at the same time, and there are many breakthroughs because someone is trying to understand them,” said Anuraag Singh, one of the authors of the treatise. “Innovation patterns are fairly constant over the long term.”

Interestingly, this MIT team started with data TechNext, A software service aimed at predicting the potential for improvement in 1,757 technology domains in the future. The most notable advances they suggest are software and networking technology, and the slowest is hardware. It is especially difficult to bend the laws of physics. The authors of the paper emphasize that the adoption rate of new technologies cannot be predicted, but fully autonomous vehicles are unlikely to zoom quickly, and blockchain technology improves faster than generally thought. Suggests that there is a possibility.

Such research highlights the distinction sometimes drawn between invention and innovation. Breakthrough technological inventions do not immediately lead to profitable innovation. In fact, successful innovation often comes from combining known technologies in innovative ways to better serve or imagine alternative business models. Various innovative companies such as Uber, Spotify and Domino’s Pizza are showing this trend.

However, Melissa Schilling, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, resists the idea that exceptional individuals are less important in the equation of innovation. It’s true that gradual technical improvements can be driven in a predictable and programmatic way for the most part, but this is only part of the story.of Her book Crazy, Schilling explores the characteristics and failures of eight groundbreaking innovators, including Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Nikola Tesla and Elon Musk. She found that almost all of them were instinctively lonely, maniac eccentric or incompatible, driven by purpose and diligence.

“Breaking innovation comes from being unorthodox. It has to break the existing paradigm,” she tells me. “It’s much easier to find unorthodox people than unorthodox organizations. That’s why innovation is very likely to be associated with outsiders who are ready to fight for their ideas. It ’s expensive. ”

Sinclair may not have belonged to the same league as any innovator in Schilling’s book. Nevertheless, he thought differently and shared the same obsession with making a difference. A community of experts may be needed to gather the craters that enable innovation to ignite. But sometimes it requires a single individual to provide the spark.

john.thornhill@ft.com

Innovation still requires smart, even barmy, innovators Source link Innovation still requires smart, even barmy, innovators

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