The way we interact with technology changes from year to year (and on occasion, something comes along and changes an interface overnight, like TwitterFone). Given that one of the creators of Twitterfone, namely Pat Phelan, posed the question “Have we over innovated?“, its surprising.
The answer is no. I think that Robin Blandford, Damien Mulley and Alexia Golez all agree that we have more innovating to do. Part of the perceived problem is that the innovators produce something for the general person; but the general person doesn’t want it. The bleeding edge early adopters might love it, but not their less technology loving friends and relatives. The early innovations tend to be the “engineering model” with a few unfinished features, bugs and complicated instructions. A remote control which has an individual button for every function the device can do is not the most user friendly of interfaces. The early adopters will flock to it and understand it. But if it isn’t obvious and fast and easy to use, I know my Mum will hate it, and the chances are that the device won’t survive to a second model. Its an innovators dilemma.
The true irony of this dilemma is that its caused by a mixtre of a lack of communication, and too much. After all, some innovations were things that the users didn’t know that they wanted. An “unknown unknowns” sort of thing. This is a want, which is so convenient that it rapidly becomes a need. Sometimes this is generational (e.g. mobile phone uptake), sometimes this just swoops in out of the blue and everyone joins in (grandparents and grandchildren on the Wii). But sometimes they are consigned to the “ideas before their time” bin. Being able to “vote out” unnecessary parts of the solution, means that the idea has less of a problem.
The other type of solutions is the “What if?” caused by the “Why not?”. The “Why doesn’t this exist yet?” type problems. Which is usually what is thought about when people talk about a lack of innovation. The slow incremental kind where the steps seems obvious only after the product comes to market. And these steps are being sped up due to communication.
Now an idea or observation can become a idle tweet, which sparks another’s blog post, which sparks a small blog storm, which sparks a business plan, which sparks a gathering of minds and ideas, which sparks improved ideas and a flurry of research work, which (might) spark a business plan but is more likely to spark a business start-up first. And each step in an itteration of the idea, refining the initial notion with practicalities and possibilities. Due to the wonder of social networking at it’s finest, this allows people who know brightsparks to become involved in an interesting idea and produce something. Because ideas are easy, but the skills to do something specialised are, well, specialised, and few people have them. But knowing someone who knows someone who might be able to help you is a practical possibility due to the sped up communication of social networks. Then your idea moves from notion to production.
But you have to produce something which enables others to know some of your ideas. You have to give in order to get. You have to spend time or talent to get attention. To get communication. And you have to join the conversations, otherwise you are considered the unwelcome gatecrasher that will be ignored. But if that gatecrasher helps out, then he or she is no longer an unwelcome gatecrasher, but a welcomed guest. And this new guest may point out that part of the solution yo are trying to make already exists, so there is no need to reinvent that wheel (or how to avoid being sued by that wheel’s inventor).
Open source projects and wikipedia works this way. Individuals who may never physically meet work on a project in their spare time. And it works for businesses, where one entrepreneur meets another on line, or a third party brings them together virtually and then physically. Perinatal ideas get defined through this virtual iteration and idea refinement so that not only is a full bodied idea born, but the creation process creates a bit of interest in the idea itself. Enough interest, and there might be interested funders.
Can we over-innovate? Only if we are willing to accept it as (science) fiction, but science fiction frequently sparks the research to become science fact. Is innovation over? Not as long as others can spark ideas and collaboration. As for a visual representation of this collaboration, see the video below.