Thinking about innovation

When thinking about innovation, it pays to look at the historic record as well as what is being done currently.

If one has a completely new idea, not one that is incremental, it changes the impact the innovation has on the world.

However, if one confines oneself to conform to social pressure or criticisms and stays on the incremental path, one might easily miss out on great opportunities.

What is the source of innovation?

Innovation sometimes comes from unexpected places and other times from known planned processes, which take place in famous research labs and universities.

However, it is interesting that some of the innovations that completely changed the course of history, like the telephone and the steam engine, have so far been brought forth by relatively unknown outlying persons who thought of new ways to solve existing problems.

Disruptive creation

Historically, there have been many occasions when an existing market or technology has been disrupted and made obsolete by a new innovation.

One of the earliest instances of this was the telephone. In the 1800s, Western Union was the telegraph monopoly who controlled the market. They also had their fingers in politics and were fielding their own US presidential candidates. However, with Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone, Western Union’s monopoly was broken and the telephone replaced the telegraph as the most prevalent instrument for communication. Bell’s company (later going by the name of AT&T) was to become a monopoly in it’s own right. As Joseph Schumpeter described it, it was creative destruction in practice.

Similar things happened when the personal computer disrupted the mainframe market and the internet disrupted several markets. I’m sure there will be many more instances of this occurring in the future and the present day.