Innovation Is Not Marketing

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Too often, the whole concept of innovation, and I mean, real, true innovation, is kind of a foreign thing to many companies. They treat their whole innovation function as simply a marketing play, not even an R&D play. They spend a ton of money, time and resources to develop cool new things, only to kill them before they can get into the development pipeline.

The reasons for this are numerous:

  1. The established order within the company sees innovation as a fun toy to be played with, but not a serious business
  2. The established order is aware that the innovation is the next true path of the company, but is afraid to admit it (hubris)
  3. The established order is unaware that the innovation that they are building internally will eventually replace their business
  4. The established order figures that business is doing fine, and any innovation from outside is not a real serious threat
  5. The established order thinks that innovation efforts establish the companies “coolness” but little else
  6. All of, or a combination of, the above.

I’ve run innovation programs at some pretty big firms and I can tell you that the surest way to kill innovation is to have a program which extracts it, then does nothing with it. Your innovators may release one or two ideas to you, but if those don’t go anywhere, then they usually keep the rest to themselves, maybe to start their own startup with that idea. That kind of stuff is rampant here in the Bay Area.

Innovation is not marketing. Innovation can be fun, but it is serious. Innovation is the future of your business. It is corporate strategy. Interesting how calling something “corporate strategy” makes it sounds essential, and something that is core to your business and must never, ever be cut due to lack of funding, and innovation, which some like, oh, some fun things that we do on the side which we can easily do without when the times are tight.

That is the exact opposite of what should be happening. Your innovation groups ARE (or should be, if they aren’t) your corporate strategy. Its where you are going as a company. Or at least it should be.

So I say unto you – examine the innovation function within your organization, then go big or go home. Is innovation simply a marketing play, or is it producing serious, badass thought leadership which is steering your company?

How can you tell? Simple. Look at your innovation program, not by number of ideas generated, or number of prototypes built, or even numbers of white papers or blog posts written. Look at it from a single data point “How many of these ideas are in use by our customers, internal or external, today?”

If you have generated 2000 ideas, and built 100 prototypes and not a single idea has found its way into production, your innovation program is marketing.

If that’s the case, I’d say, shut down your program and give the money to marketing instead. Or pad your compensation programs because your company will not be around for much longer, and you may as well have a decent exit strategy.

Your innovation program is your child. It is your future. It is the future of your company. If it isn’t, then your company has no future.

 

Humanity Cannot Progress Without Heaps

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Bill Gates seems to be in the news a lot lately – just a few days ago he said that its OK if half of the startups which comes out of Silicon Valley are “silly”, and just yesterday he came out with a statement saying that its preposterous that there has been a “pause” in innovation – that innovation is slowing down.

Well, Mr. Gates, I beg to differ. If you ask me, not only has innovation slowed down, in some areas, its been completely immobilized. And its not the technology which has slowed us down – if you ask me, that rocks on even better than ever. No, what’s changed is our appetite for innovation. We’ve lost the fire in the belly.

By now you’re probably saying, Chris, what are you talking about? Things are moving faster than they have ever moved before – the power of electronic devices has doubled and quadrupled every year or so, and we could never have predicted that we now hold in our hands and pockets roughly the same amount of computing horsepower as supercomputers of old. Even something a piece of electronics as minute as the camera on a smartphone has virtually rendered actual cameras obsolete – even digital ones. When you can get better resolution from a $500 smartphone than a $1500 Nikon, why wouldn’t you?

But I digress. Sure, those things have progressed. But what are we doing with all that firepower in our hands? We’re playing flappy bird, and sending snapshots to our friends that disappear in a few seconds. Whoa, that’s innovation!

Back in the olden days, say around before the turn of the last century, can you believe that we didn’t know how to fly? That we couldn’t travel enormous distances around the globe in a few hours? That we depended on real horses – yep, a one or two horsepower carriage, to get around? Around that time there was such a huge spurt of innovation that within a few short decades, we invented the car and the airplane and the jet engine. That’s when innovation was truly ripping through the world. It all sort of petered out by the end of the sixties, though.

Since then, innovation in many things slowed to a crawl. It wasn’t because the technology didn’t get better and better.

It was because we stopped taking risks. We got cautious. We got careful. We went all “bubble wrap mommy” on innovation.

I think that, even though we had gone all cautious in most ways and many areas already, I think the big final defining moment was the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. It blew up 73 seconds into the flight and took with it seven souls, one of which was a teacher. In that moment, the space program was over, even though it had sort of lost its way after the moon landing anyways.

Prior to this time, humans took huge risks, hoping for huge rewards. Inventors were perfectly willing to die in order to discover some new thing. From the Renaissance to oh, around 1970, humankind was in this massive explosion of exploration and discovery, and damn the torpedoes. We grew and learnt so much as a species during that period that the mind is dazzled by all we did.

But since then, all we’ve ever done is been incremental. We’ve improved things, but have we really come out with anything new? Even the internet was born near the end of that period, maybe the last really massive innovation.

So what happened? Who knows. Maybe we got all fat and happy. Maybe we decided that it wasn’t worth being killed or maimed in the name of science.

But this is exactly why innovation has slowed, and in some ways stopped. We are holding ourselves back. We are being too careful, too cautious. and as a result, we even passed hundreds of laws to force others to also be careful and cautious. God forbid you take any risks which may injure someone, or the environment, even if it means curing cancer or discovering the secret to living to a 1000.

Some people might argue that this is better – that we should always look before we leap. But some of the most amazing discoveries of the human race were made by those who purposely didn’t look before they leapt, thus unknowingly discovered some incredible innovation we are still using today.

But I say, if we want to return to the days of incredibly rapid discovery, we need to loosen the apron strings a bit. We need to take more risks, we need to stop holding ourselves back – we need to say damn the torpedoes more often.

  • How do we know if we can clone replacement body parts if we don’t try?
  • How do we know if we can cure cancer or AIDS if we can’t genetically manipulate cells?
  • How many people die waiting for drugs due a decades long review process?

We need to stop ourselves from asking “should we”. We should just do.

One of my favorite quotes from Futurama was from Professor Farnsworth in the episode The Prisoner Of Benda. Here is the dialog between Amy and the Professor:

Amy: Good, I’m sick of cleaning up those heaps of dead monkeys. But why would you want your mind in a new body?
Farnsworth: Well, as a man enters his 18th decade, he thinks back on the mistakes he’s made in life.
Amy: Like the heaps of dead monkeys?
Farnsworth: Science cannot move forward without heaps! No, what I regret is the youth I wasted playing it safe.

“Science cannot move forward without heaps” – its a joke for sure, but it has the ring of truth. We are so worried about ending up on that heap, that we don’t even try – we don’t even take the risk.

True innovation requires risk. And almost everything that we do today attempts to iron the risk out of everything – from cars, to food, to education. We are all trying to play it as safe as possible – to not end up on the heap. But then nothing progresses. Nothing moves forward. No innovation occurs.

By now, we should have flying cars, tiny nuclear reactors powering that supercomputer in your pocket, a just-in-time education system which teaches humans exactly what they need to know, exactly when they need it, food enough for the population of the world many times over, and the end of tyranny through fully open communications between any human on the planet and every other human on the planet.

So here is my call to action: we need to take risks. We need to do new things. Even if they are uncomfortable. Even if people are hurt, figuratively or literally.

If you ask me – the human race cannot progress without heaps.

Gates also disagreed forcefully with economists and analysts who say the pace of technological innovation is slowing, and no longer driving productivity and economic growth. “I think the idea that innovation is slowing down is one of the stupidest things anybody ever said,” he said. “Innovation is moving at a scarily fast pace.”"I want to meet this guy who sees a pause in innovation and ask them where have they been.”"Take the potential of how we generate energy, the potential of how we design materials, the potential of how we create medicines, the potential of how we educate people, the way we use virtual reality to make it so you don’t have to travel as much or you get fun experiences,” he noted. Innovation doesn’t always work the way we think it might, he pointed out. For example, when innovation is happening fast enough, it sometimes shrinks GDP by disrupting industries e.g. the damage the Internet has had on the newspaper industry or increasing costs e.g. the proliferation of medical technology.”I want to meet this guy who sees a pause in innovation and ask them where have they been,” he said.

via Bill Gates: ‘The Idea That Innovation Is Slowing Down Is … Stupid’ – Uri Friedman – The Atlantic.

The Web Is 25 Today

mosaic.6beta_610x569If you think about it – not a lot has changed since the web was born 25 years ago – we still use browsers – even though some have come and gone and have been reborn again – even thought we’ve seen a huge uptick towards mobile, even there we use mobile browsers to view the internet. In fact, I’m typing this blog post in a browser – of course no one at the time would ever imagine how the browser and the web would fully disrupt software as we know it.

If you look a Mosaic today, what you see is a very, very crude versions or what I’m using to write this blog post – while the power of the browser itself has changed – and many layers of technology have appeared to replicate the software on my desktop experience in the browser, I’m still loading a web page. If I were to look at my source right now, I’d still see HTML and hyperlinks, just as Tim-Berners Lee imagined it.

Of course, in the early days, the power of hypertext was in the ability to let you jump to the link when you needed additional exposition on that specific word – thus the term web “surfing”, you’d bounce from page to page, sometimes digging into the pages, other times, finding another path to somewhere else, with no idea how to get back. Until of course, you pressed the “back” button.

Even though we still call it “surfing”, we no longer surf in the traditional sense, well, most people I know don’t. They take a less active role, preferring instead to allow curated content to come at them in feeds, whether they be properly curated or not, The web of today is more of a lean back experience than ever. And since most people experience the web via Facebook, Google, Amazon and the like, and rarely venture far off those beaten tracks, there is even less – and likely to be less tomorrow. We went from a free roaming experience to one on rails (borrowing from the video game world) – even though we CAN go anywhere, we choose not to, preferring the popular neighborhoods than going off the beaten track.

Where will the web be in 25 years? Unrecognizable, I should think. First of all, we are already seeing a burst of different devices, mostly wearables, which will give us new form factors to consider. The web itself will shatter into a million niches – requiring the ability to display everything from single words, to weighty tomes, in any format, on any device, in a way it can digested. It’s like responsive design on steroids – and it will have to look awesome on all of them – since design will continue to be super important.

Secondly, a lot of the “stuff” that we have to do – things that seem really complicated and formidable to accomplish, will simply disappear. Oh, they will still be there, but they will subside into a pure platform play. For example, something like eCommerce, selling stuff, paying people, that won’t be a thing onto itself, its will become integrated into the fabric of the web. There won’t be payment apps, just payment APIs, hidden from the end user. And not just payment APIs, many services which require a full app and complicated instrumentation will disappear.

So many things will become effortless and seamless. You won’t need to do many things any more – agents will do things for you on your behalf – based on things that you’ve already done, things that it thinks you will be doing, and even things that it think you might want to do. Everyone will be a rock star, as technology provides everyone with an amazing virtual entourage, anyone can enjoy a rock star experience.

After that – the web will be everywhere. Once the web is everywhere – once every dumb device is smart and connected, we will have so much big data that we are able to, we can solve every problem.

We do have the web to thank for that. If it wasn’t for Tim, then the only people using the internet would be nerds and geeks like me. And there are only so many of us.

One of the things I like to joke about is that my Dad used to say “Why are you doing computers? Computers are a fad! You should get into a business which is necessary! Like being a doctor, lawyer, real estate agents. Everyone gets sick, everyone needs a house! Even barbers are necessary. But computers?” I think about what he said and I realize that the web is not only responsible for my career over the last 20 years, but also the careers of millions more. If you can possibly imagine life without the web, and the huge driver of commerce and economic growth that it has become, then I don’t want to live in that world. I could, but I wouldn’t want to.

So cheers to Tim Berners-Lee and the web. I have not idea where I’d be if it wasn’t for his awesome invention. Probably still crawling under desks and replacing hard drives, I suppose.

Artists Should Not Work For Free

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Just Cause Its Free To Deliver Doesn’t Mean It Should Be Free, Period.

Spotify’s latest move to make all of its services free (since they raised a quarter billion dollars) is just the latest strike against paying for content.

For a while now the perceived price of content has been under fire.

The source of this probably came about during the late 60′s with Stewart Brand‘s infamous comment:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

Note the part that stuck: “information wants to be free“. Ugh. But also notice that in the next sentence, he talks specifically about distribution.

While Brand was referring to the cost of distributing the information – the meaning of this has been stretched and pulled like taffy over time to extend over to the cost of the entire creation of “information”. And since this quote – all kinds of content have morphed from physical media – LPs, CDs – VHS tapes, DVDs, printed books, magazines – to information. So, its true – while the cost of distributing the information has approached zero, only in some of these areas has the cost of creation actually dropped.

For example, it used to require musicians for an artist to record, mix and release tracks of music. Recording studio space had to be secured, costs were high, as was the barrier to entry. But nowadays, free and low cost software can turn anyone into the next Skrillex (well not anyone, you need to still have the talent). In that industry the costs of creating the media have dropped, as in film. The technology required to make an independent film has dropped precipitously, so as above, anyone with a little talent and a smartphone can create a compelling vision. Not so much for writing though. The craft of writing really hasn’t changed all that much – sure the tools have gotten more sophisticated, but unless someone has created some kind of automatic writing engine which just takes concepts and spits out stories (I’d pay real money for that one), that mostly requires butt-in-seat time.

In all of this content creation – we may have shaved down the cost of the recording and distribution – but the time – and time IS a cost – and skill of the artist required to produce quality work – have remained the same. The skill to write a good story, to take a great picture, to produce an awesome track, to move people emotionally with film – those things have great value. It is my assertion that that value is being whittled away, bit by bit, by the audience – who just look at the recording and distribution costs nearing zero, as a reason that the entire cost of the object, including the time and skill the artist put into creating the work also should be zero.

When these things were physical objects, people gladly paid for them. For some reason, now that they are information – people want them to be free. We can lay the blame for this cheapening at the feet of many places – the distaste of people for what they perceive are the excesses of capitalism, the wrecking of the concept of a free market by places and services like Fiverr and iTunes, the open source and shareware/freeware software movements (on the one hand, the unfettered exchange of software is a great thing – but on the other hand, there are thousands of programmers out there, who, slave like, code for no compensation. And when people get used to you producing something for nothing, then why pay something when you get something for nothing?)

How do Fiverr and iTunes wreck a market? In a true free market, (like eBay, which is not perfect but closer to a free market) prices are set by an agreement between buyer and seller – they agree to a price where both the buyer and the seller walk away pleased with the deal – the buyer getting fair value for their money and the seller getting fair value for the time that they put into creating the product. Even fixed price markets, like Etsy, allow a seller to set a price – and there is even room for some negotiation. Places like Fiverr, where every service is one price, perverts this beautiful process, by forcing every product, content and service from shooting a video, or recording an audio track, to writing a blog post or a short story, to a single price. This sets the value ahead of time – no matter how much effort the seller does or does not put into the creation of the content, the price is the same. And in order to provide good value to the buyers, the sellers typically over deliver. Expectations are incredibly high, and the review and rating mechanisms are overly harsh to the sellers.

Since often these marketplaces often feature one of a kind created physical items, even those items are tarred by the same brush – even physical item prices – original works created by artists – suffer the same fate.

The artists are constantly getting screwed down. Probably partially based on the mistaken belief of the buyers that the full “costs” (as opposed to just the recording and distribution costs) to create a musical track, a video, or a book, or a photo, get lower and lower, the “price” a buyer should pay should also get lower and lower. Eventually, buyers will expect all content to be near zero – or even free.

There’s been a recent meme floating around the internet from a photographer, tired of his customers expecting him to work for very little or free, wrote and posted an ad on Craigslist asking for people to work for him for free, since everyone expects him to work for free – or very little:

Titled “Pro Photographer Looking for People to Do Their Job Without Pay,” the photographer decides it’s turnabout time. “I am a photographer,” the shooter writes, “and since people are always looking for free shoots I assume that they must also do their job, or provide their services, for free.”

“I am looking to hire all types of people to do all sorts of jobs for me, as long as I do not have to pay anything,” he continues. “Just think, you will gain more experience, and I will put the word out for you and let everyone know what wonderful work you do.”

I know a number of photographers, writers, videographers and musicians who are seeing it too – although the time and skill to create quality content has not changed, the price expectations has truly plummeted, to the point where one can no longer support oneself creating content, unless it’s a physical object. Only physical objects seem to hold more value, and the market which prefers physical objects is getting smaller and smaller.

What is the future path for content creators? Do they go down the path of open source developers and give their content (source code) away for free, only to make up the money in other ways (training and documentation)? I’ve read plenty of articles about how bands can’t make a penny on selling music, but make up their money in concerts and sales of physical goods. But what about writers and others? Even now, a book making its way up the charts Write, Publish, Repeat, is advocating giving away your first books for free, in order to satiate an audience that wants everything for nothing. I’m not sure that simply bowing to that pressure is the right way to go – which is why when I published my first fiction book, I priced it at what I thought was a reasonable amount, which would pay for my time and skill in creating the book.

In 2007, I filed for a patent on an idea to create a true media marketplace, where content creators and content purchasers could reach a fair price on the cost of the content – pleasing both the buyer and the seller. Since then, we’ve culturally forced down the cost of content to the point where a system like that might never allow the content creators to receive full and proper value for their time and skill.

There may be some solution for content creators in a crowdsourced environment, where some kind of bidding system would allow both the creators and the buyers the ability to reach a reasonable price for content – allowing the content creators to continue to do what they do best – create quality content – and give the buyers better content at a reasonable price.

We simply need to bring a true market back to content, and stop pushing the price near zero. We have to reassert the value in the time and skill required to take that beautiful picture, write that moving story or lay down that groove. Like never before, we have the technology and the networks in place to create a true free market for artists. Who will take the first step?

Future News:How I Moved To Africa & Kept My Job

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Dateline 11/11/2018: Gaborone, Botswana: When John Smith’s wife was transferred to the University of Botswana here as a Professor of Archaeology, he assumed that he would have to quit his lucrative position as Lead Engineer at IndieCaster, Inc, based in Silicon Valley, California, and find employment in Gaborone, which would not normally be an issue, as Gaborone has enjoyed the status as the fastest growing city in the world for more than 10 years. Fortunately for both John and IndieCaster, and new virtual office technologies from There.com (formerly Makena Technologies) called VirtuallyThere™, John can remain a full time employee and interact with co-workers like he never left. There.com installed their technology in an office at IndieCasters office in Palo Alto, CA, and in John’s home office in Gaborone. When a co-worker knocks on the door of the room in Palo Alto, the sound of the knock is translated to his home in Gaborone. When John walks into his home office in Gaborone, the sensory streams from each office are exchanged in real time. The images are extremely high resolution. When a co-worker walks into his office in Palo Alto, his images are sent to Gaborone. “One time,” says John “I actually nearly broke my hand reaching to shake hands with a vendor, the resolution is that good” There.com, which was founded in 1998, struggled for years to find a working business model, dabbled in the virtual world space for a number of years before its government arm, Forterra Systems, perfected Ultra High Definition visual and auditory technologies, culminating in the VirtuallyThere product line.

About 6 years ago, I wrote a set of predictive stories about what life would be like 10 years out. Really interesting to go back to that time and see how much of that is on the way to actually happening: some of it – like 3d printers, are definitely moving along at a rapid clip. Others, not so much. I thought that you might find some of these interesting, so I’ll send them out in addition to my regular scheduled programming. Hope you enjoyed, and that it spurs some new thinking!

Future News:Public Shaming Ruled Illegal

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Des Moines, IA, United States: In this Midwestern town, one of the first cities which experimented with a new method of deterrence, the local city government today made illegal the new/old practice of public shaming. If you haven’t read the stories on this trend that has been sweeping the country, a number of smaller cities have begun using a form of public shaming as punishment for offences in lieu of a more and more burdened local government which is increasingly unable to prevent crime. When a person commits a crime, their picture is posted with the details of their crime, allowed residents to treat that person accordingly. Chad Michaels, President of Take Responsibility (Des Moines Chapter) says “People think that this is an outmoded and uncivil practice, but in reality, it works. When someone lives in a community, they forget how often they need to interact with other members of the community. When they commit an offence against one person, they offend the community. This just lets the community know what the offence is, and allows the community to decide how to react. It’s amazing how people get in line when they think their crime isn’t private” The group has seen a very small number of inappropriate postings and or repeat offenders. Chad is not surprised that the Des Moines government has decided to ban the practice. “Governments can’t handle things that work and don’t cost anything. This won’t stop us though, it works too well”

About 6 years ago, I wrote a set of predictive stories about what life would be like 10 years out. Really interesting to go back to that time and see how much of that is on the way to actually happening: some of it – like 3d printers, are definitely moving along at a rapid clip. Others, not so much. I thought that you might find some of these interesting, so I’ll send them out in addition to my regular scheduled programming. Hope you enjoyed, and that it spurs some new thinking!

Future News:Why Shop Alone: How Buying With Friends Works

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Milan, Italy: When Rose Manetti shops, it’s never alone. This junior designer for Versace spends plenty of time perusing the shops, looking for that unique look for herself and for ideas for her designs. “I’m always out looking for ideas” she says, “and not just at clothing shops, everything is my inspiration, art galleries, museums, even people walking down the street” But when Rose is ready to spend money , she goes online and buys in bulk. As one of the most followed people of TopShopper.com, she purchases everything through the group shopping service. “I never pay retail” she says “and neither do my followers” TopShopper allows Rose to buy almost anything in large quantities, even have items designed and custom constructed to her groups specifications. “For example, last week” says Rose “I saw this awesome dress which looked great but was a little too long. I went online via TopShopper and redesigned it and then 150 of my followers decided to buy the same dress. We got it for a steal!” TopShopper has both a catalog of items as well as custom built items.  “It’s lucky most of my friends are size 0” she laughs.

About 6 years ago, I wrote a set of predictive stories about what life would be like 10 years out. Really interesting to go back to that time and see how much of that is on the way to actually happening: some of it – like 3d printers, are definitely moving along at a rapid clip. Others, not so much. I thought that you might find some of these interesting, so I’ll send them out in addition to my regular scheduled programming. Hope you enjoyed, and that it spurs some new thinking!

Future News:Cancer Patient Turns 90

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Dateline: 11/4/2018: Ciudad de México, México: Maria Fuentes, who was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer 10 years ago, and given 6 months to live at the time, welcomed family and friends for her 90th birthday yesterday. “I am so happy God gave Merck the ability to help me live with this disease. I love the extra time it has given me with my family. When I first agreed to this experimental drug, I was sure that I would not last this long, but here I am!” Merck contacted Maria right after she was first diagnosed, and she was one of the first patients to be given Pausivase™, a drug which is now commonplace outside of the United States but is still taking the arduous process of approval via the FDA in the US. Pausivase is the touted “miracle drug” which nearly halts the spread of many illnesses, turning terminal patients into chronic patients. As such, many patients can live much longer lives, even in their advanced conditions.

About 6 years ago, I wrote a set of predictive stories about what life would be like 10 years out. Really interesting to go back to that time and see how much of that is on the way to actually happening: some of it – like 3d printers, are definitely moving along at a rapid clip. Others, not so much. I thought that you might find some of these interesting, so I’ll send them out in addition to my regular scheduled programming. Hope you enjoyed, and that it spurs some new thinking!

Future News:New Food Labels To Be Online Only

laser-etched-fruitDateline 11/1/2018: Washington, DC, United States: Everyone knows how difficult it can be to determine a foods carbon footprint from the labeling – what with nutritional information, pesticide, allergy and carbon footprint labeling on each and every food product, either packaging sizes have to increase, which is anti-ethical to the reduction of waste, or another solution needs to be found. The FDA, in concert with a consortium of food producers, such a General Mills, Altria and Coca-Cola, are teaming up to make food labeling much easier and less wasteful. In a number of test markets around the country, the current expansive food labels will be replaced with a simple barcode and ID number, which can be stuck on everything from an apple to a box of cereal. By using a scanning wireless phone, or simply by texting the ID number to the FDAINFO SMS robot, you can get a complete electronic food label sent back to your device. Product marketing folks are ecstatic “We can finally get back to real box design” says Fred Miller of Philippe Becker Design, “What with all the government mandated product labeling, package design didn’t have room for anything but label. This new sticker will finally let us design again”

About 6 years ago, I wrote a set of predictive stories about what life would be like 10 years out. Really interesting to go back to that time and see how much of that is on the way to actually happening: some of it – like 3d printers, are definitely moving along at a rapid clip. Others, not so much. I thought that you might find some of these interesting, so I’ll send them out in addition to my regular scheduled programming. Hope you enjoyed, and that it spurs some new thinking!

Applied vs Theoretical Innovation

Innovation (1)Recently, I got to thinking that there are really are two kinds of innovation, and these two types of innovation were very apparent in the kind of programs I would run for companies. Borrowing a term from physics, I like to call these two types of innovation “theoretical” and “applied” just like theoretical and applied physics.

Theoretical innovation is something you simply just cannot do today. There are factors which keep you from actually implementing the envisioned product or service right now. These can be something as simple as the right kind of technology, say size of storage space or wireless bandwidth or as complex as the right geo-political infrastructures. A good example of this is streaming HD virtual reality to wireless phones. Sure, it can be done: but the network is simply not up to the task of allowing it to happen.

Tech factors, strangely enough, are not usually the ones holding back the innovation: it’s more likely the human factor, factions within companies taking credit or laying blame, cultural and political reasons etc. However, the biggest indicator of something being “theoretical innovation” in my view is ability to monetize. If there is no way to make any money off it, even if all barriers were lowered, then it remains in that realm since most no one, save some independently wealthy, or governments, will step up to take it on. It’s this type of innovation which is ideally suited to go into a patent application process.

Applied Innovation, on the other hand, is leading edge work that not only pushes the envelope, it also has a clear path to monetization. If you ask me, this is pretty easy to come up with: is it a product or service that I would use and pay for? Applied innovation takes what is out there today, and rebuilds or mashes it up to create something new, useful and valuable. Applied innovation is the kind of thing that can be taken from idea to launch in days or weeks with a few guys in a garage. And its applied innovation which is probably what most people think about, at least in the business world, as innovation.

Thats not to say that theoretical innovation doesn’t have its place, and many ideas began in the theoretical innovation space, but as these ideas have much longer paths, or in some cases no path to monetization at all, now may not be the best time to pursue theoretical innovation. In boom times, with the wind at our backs, of course, but today, in this climate, a focus on applied innovation is essential.