End the Innovation Obsession

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Some of our best ideas are in the rearview mirror.

By David Sax

Dec. 7, 2018

“We are told that innovation is the most important force in our economy, the one thing we must get right or be left behind. But that fear of missing out has led us to foolishly embrace the false trappings of innovation over truly innovative ideas that may be simpler and ultimately more effective. This mind-set equates innovation exclusively with invention and implies that if you just buy the new thing, voilà! You have innovated!

At best, this is a waste of time and money. Gadgets are procured, deployed and discarded. Resources are squandered as the technology’s actual capabilities fall short of its promise.

But at its worst, this approach to innovation can truly be destructive. 

True innovation isn’t just some magic carnival of invention, like a Steve Jobs keynote with a pretty toy at the end. It is a continuing process of gradual improvement and assessment that every institution and business experiences in some way. Often that actually means adopting ideas and tools that already exist but make sense in a new context, or even returning to methods that worked in the past. Adapted to the challenges of today, these rearview innovations have proved to be as transformative as novel technologies.”

This type of reflective innovation requires courage, because it calls into question the assumption that newer is necessarily better. But increasingly, as our worship of Silicon Valley gives way to a growing sense of unease, we are asking those questions and innovating appropriately.

These innovations aren’t mired in the past. They are solutions firmly focused on the future — not some technocentric version of it, where we invent our way to utopia, but a human-centric future that reflects where we’ve been, what we’ve learned and how we actually want to live.

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