Will this post get Chris Masse to stop bothering me for a promised post on invention vs. innovation?
Many people have written on this, a few recent links, not all precisely relevant to the question.
One way of putting it is that six billion people generate a huge number of ideas, some number of which could be called inventions. Most are hopeless (the inventions; the people at least manage to survive for a time). Most of the rest are not actively pursued. The only way to test whether an invention is hopeless or useful is to attempt to deliver it at scale. So innovators (think of them as idea entrepreneurs, or whatever) both figure out which inventions are not hopeless and deliver the useful ones at scale. Innovators create all of the surplus, inventors do little more than breathe.
I’ve had an idea in my head for a few years that Masse recently mentioned in passing (not the moronic one he has recently written at length about). Have I done anything with the idea? No. Without implementation the idea is worthless.
Read Robin Hanson’s short The Myth Of Creativity article. Excerpt:
What society needs is not more creativity or suggestions for change but better ways to encourage people to focus on important issues, identify the most promising ideas, and tell the right people about them. But our deification of creativity gets in the way.
Do read the whole thing. Hanson’s target is slightly different than mine.
Before Masse calls me a Robin Hanson fan-boy again (I don’t mind), I’ll pose the obvious question: how much of an innovator is Hanson? He’s clearly a fantastic ideas person, but ideas don’t matter. He seems a more productive innovator than the average academic, but that bar is probably very low.
A recent and very apropos Seth Godin post on Meeting Needs spurred me to finally write this. Godin:
Almost no new idea meets the needs of shareholders and CEOs. That’s because most of all they need predictability and apparent freedom from risk. This is why public companies are almost always on the road to disaster. They flee from change in order to do what they think is meeting the needs of those constituents. They fight changes in laws, policies, technologies and markets because their CEO (especially) wants a nice even flight pattern while he racks up big time options.
Shrink wrap software feels safe. Secure. Supported. Beyond reproach.
It turns out that open source can do a brilliant job of meeting their actual needs (lower overhead to install and maintain, higher productivity to use, more stable over time) but the problem is that apparent needs (playing it safe, making your boss happy) almost always get in the way. Until it’s too late. When it’s too late, the competition has leapfrogged you.
Godin also mentions blogging, read the full post. One could substitute prediction markets for open source or blogging. Put that in your marketing pipe and smoke it, Mr. Chris Masse. :-)