Three+ one (3+1) observations about Innovation today.

This is not based on extensive research. It’s just common sense. Three + one observations about the current state of innovation:

1) Improved? Yes. New? Not really:

In case you haven’t noticed, most of the new ideas and products that we experience today aren’t really new. They are improved versions of existing products. Their marginal utility is sometimes noticeable, but usually not meaningful.

2) Corporations are like humans
Having worked in the innovation space for about a decade now, I can attest to the fact that both clients and creative professionals
tend to gravitate around existing ideas. It’s how the human brain works. There is a so called anchoring effect that makes it extremely hard to erase what we already know. But it’s also how corporations work: after all they are only made by humans. Most decision makers choose a safe idea that will move the bottom line this year, regardless of long term potential. It’s easier, it looks better on your resume when you move to a new job next year and you get to feel useful for moving the bottom line. “Win-Win, right?”

3) An Entire vocabulary has been developed to support boring ideas.

There is a negative correlation (approaching -1) between sexy terms and innovation. In simple words, this means that the less we understand how something works the more time we spend describing how cool it is. New media, new gurus, new self proclaimed mavens and evangelists: Armed with cool Powerpoint charts they get everybody excited about innovation, until the critical point in time where they need to present their (real) ideas.

4 (3+1) Despite all this, there is real innovation

Despite corporations and gurus, real innovation is in fact taking place, but it’s harder to notice. Probably because we are not looking in the right place. Maybe it’s also the fact that we are slowly redefining our perception of “normal” everyday, so it’s harder to notice incremental change. But when you combine all these small changes, the result is something bigger, meaningful and real. Take computer gaming for instance: For at least two decades the focus has been on graphics until web enabled massive multiplayer games and Wii drastically challenged the experience. Gaming (and for that matter innovation) in general is in fact changing in three ways: It’s becoming broader, deeper and faster.

By broader I mean that innovation (gaming) reaches new groups of people in a life changing, meaningful way. Think of mom gamers, older gamers, mobile gaming.

By deeper I mean that new generations are born and raised with new cultural and technological codes. You just know how to use a multi touch screen or a Wii controller, because, well you know.

By Faster I mean, well faster, much faster. Open collaboration allows ideas to flow and grow at a different pace because of increased communication and lateral thinking.


There is an interesting paradox about the state of innovation today:

  • never before we had so many experts, people actively carrying the title innovation in their job description.
  • never before there was so much potential for radical innovation.
  • Never before was that potential so clearly linked to something else than the experts.