We all love innovation, don’t we?
Innovation brought us the light bulb, the Ford Model T and the polio vaccine.
Innovation in search technology allowed Google to dominate search, to make billions and it even resulted in a new verb “to Google”.
Innovation in product design and marketing allowed Apple to rise up from the position of also ran to become a dominant player in computing, digital media players, online music and even to validate a new category (despite the skeptics), the tablet computer.
But there’s another kind of innovation.
Monsanto’s gene mutations are controversial examples of innovation in the agricultural industry.
The atomic bomb is an example of one the most powerful and scary innovations in weapons and warfare.
Innovations in terrorist organizations can have devastating results.
At a recent Silicon Valley Innovation Institute event (“Innovation Feng Shui”) held here at Cogswell College, the good, bad and ugly of innovation was discussed.
The attendees, SVII Founder Howard Lieberman and a panel of innovation specialists all participated as equals in this discussion that was run in a unique way. There was no podium, panelist table or slide presentation. Each participant grabbed a chair and picked a spot in a hexagon taped on the floor.
Everyone gathered around the two lamps situated in the center. The free form discussion that resulted was a great opportunity to learn and to exchange ideas on the topic of innovation. Some key takeaways follow:
Can cities innovate?
Per one of the panel members, every municipality has innovation in their mission statements. Is there a gap between desire and actual innovation? What is innovation for cities?
Singapore, the city-state, was highlighted as a key example of civic innovation.
Cities in China competing for awards as the top technical city, the city with best transportation and other similar awards were called out as other examples of ways that cities can innovate.
Closer to home in San Jose, a recent participatory budget modeling exercise, was called out as an innovative way to get community involvement in the tricky city budgeting process.
I would argue that cities and towns can innovate. The fact is, most probably want to be, but aren’t (to the point of the original comment).
The consequences of innovation
We may not always realize the unintended consequences of innovation. The smart phone is an amazing innovation but we certainly talk to each other a lot less in person.
In the retail industry, is a big box store the dark side of innovation?
- Big box stores increase their buying power and lead to cheaper products and more convenience for the consumer.
- The downsides: they drive what we are able to buy and they drive smaller businesses out of business.
Innovations in the industrialization of food industry have resulted in chickens becoming production machines. Under these circumstances, they need hormones and antibiotics to combat disease.
McDonalds can be called innovation in food. If you’ve seen Super Size Me, you know that it can kill you.
Is our innovation stuck in “D” for “Dumb”?
The development bags that can change color – is that innovation?
Was “pink slime” an innovation?
Where’s innovation where we need it?
Things that need innovation don’t get enough because the economic incentives are low. Areas like drought and the food supply.
Branding innovation can be applied to anything
Nuclear energy is now called passive energy.
Has the nature of innovation changed?
Innovation in past was lonely, guy or two in the garage. These days, collaboration (often across the world) is leading to many of the newer innovations.
Change is neither Good nor Bad
At the end of the day, innovation is neither a positive nor a negative thing. It’s a major change, shift or improvement in a process, product or service.
Stainless steel can be made into a scimitar or a scalpel.
Innovation may be amoral, but we need to be aware of the consequences that can result from it.
About the author: Tom Treanor is an adjunct professor for Cogswell’s Entrepreneurship Master’s Program and consults on and teaches social media and SEO in the Bay Area for Right Mix Marketing Inc.