14 Apr Why do we always get innovation wrong?
Editor’s note: In this series of three short excerpts from the first chapter of his new book, The Innovation Zone, Tom Koulopoulos paints a picture of how our thinking about innovation needs to change from the tired notions we have grown up with. In short, we need to stop putting innovation on a pedestal and bring it down to earth. Innovation, claims Koulopoulos, needs to keep pace with “Global markets [which] are responding in near unison to economic and political threats and opportunities.”
Part One: Why do we always get Innovation wrong?
Innovation always takes us by surprise. When the first Motorola brick-sized cell phones were introduced in 1983 even the most ambitious projections were for 50 million phones in use in the year 2008. However, in 2008, more than 3.3 billion cell phones are in use around the globe. How could we consistently be so wrong about the future?
Every time we encounter massive change, such as that brought on by cell phones, it’s nearly impossible to fully appreciate the true nature of the change or the way in which it will alter our behaviors. It’s the reason humanity has such a miserable track record of predicting the true impact of innovation and change on the future. Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, is reported to have said that the worldwide market for computers would never exceed five. True or not, this statement always sticks in my mind as great metaphor for how even the most visionary among us are stymied by the unpredictability of the future!
Whether it’s the computer the printing press, the automobile or the cell phone we are amazed by our own ability to find applications for new ideas and react to and adapt to change. It is ultimately the most encouraging and optimistic aspect of human nature.
Part of the reason it is so difficult to project the path of innovation is that big change rarely comes in singular form. When we try to predict the impact of innovation we are not predicting the trajectory of a cannon ball but the shape of dust storm. Massive change is accompanied by a context of uncertainty, with so many forces interacting in chaotic ways that they defy any reasonable person’s ability to project how the chaos will evolve.
Today the changes we are experiencing in the world are many. Global markets are responding in near unison to economic and political threats and opportunities. The growing ranks of consumers are stressing industry and ecology. The empowerment of massive new pools of well-educated knowledge workers is creating a mobility of work without precedence. Take for example that the number or college graduates worldwide today has increased to over 30% of the population in developed countries. Going forward it is expected that over the next twenty years demand for higher education will increase 300% globally. And, of course, the looming and amorphous threat of terrorism is a constant undercurrent, which we have barely begun to factor into our psychology.
It’s an overwhelming cocktail of change. We’ve built organizations, economies and societies that seem to have exceeded our ability to keep pace with our ability to innovate.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of WTN Media LLC.