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February 26, 2014

Comments

vinnie mirchandani

Irving, thought provoking as usual

Yes, lots of confusing signals, made worse in my opinion by 3 stakeholders – investors, labor groups and politicians. They tend to make lots of noise about what should be trailing indicators of innovation – shareholder value, jobs etc. So, in fact they frown on capex, automation when in fact those usually, given a chance lead to shareholder value, more (but different) jobs etc.

I tend to look at innovation from a customer, consumer, patient, taxpayer standpoint - a less noisy group. And my innovation blog entries keep accelerating – it went to first 1,000 posts in 3 1/2 years starting in 2005. This year, in a single year it is on a 1,000 post run. And when customers find innovation in product, business model, process they tend to reward the provider and that leads to more value, jobs etc. The fascinating thing is it happening in even more in what we consider "laggard" industries like railroads or places like Africa where we tend to be pessimistic about progress.

I also tend to look at small samples of comparatives – so compare Germany to some of its EU peers (for a recent book I interviewed several German execs and many mentioned their drive to Industrie 4.0, a range of agile robotics, wearable tech, mass customization, next gen logistics), China to India, Apple to Sony, Hyundai to Japanese and US auto competitors, GE to Siemens, Amazon to IBM infrastructure outsourcing, Salesforce to Siebel etc and you can see what customers prefer and how value and jobs flow. Of course, the advantage is fleeting so companies and countries take a breather and often lose their edge. Unless they keep tinkering – product, business model, process, factories, channel etc etc – over and over.

Personally, I remain very optimistic. This is what Florence must have felt like during the European Renaissance. 9 years ago, I named my blog – New Florence. New Renaissance. Feel even more convinced of that vibe today.

Chris Chadbourne

A very interesting article, indeed! There's a real power in asking the right questions. I'd like to make two observations; one about good questions, and the other about the services economy.

I'd like to add a question; what about the people? This is an insightful conversation about innovation and technology. However, the thesis that innovation is slowing down because the pace of technology change is slowing down should be further explored. Even during the industrial economy, technology needed to be harnessed by creative minds for full effect. For instance, when electricity replaced steam in america's factories, it only achieved its full potential when industrial engineers realized (a) you could replace shafts, pulleys and belts with motors, (b) you didn't need to stack factories in multi-story buildings, (c) you could create an entire production process one level and (e) you fundamentally changed logistics and workflow to fundamentally alter production volume and cost. We need to give information technologies in the information age enough time for smart users to exploit them in ways we'd never considered. For instance, who could have predicted that the internet would enable (a) anyone-can-publish-to-the-world via a blog and (b) anyone-can-report-on-events via a tweet or an instagram to fundamentally alter the news industry? Over the next 10 to 20 years, if I want to understand the pace of innovation, I look not to the information technology but to its unintended applications.

You observe the shift from manufacturing to services... let's explore that tantalizing tidbit. If the economy is now about services, wouldn't it make sense to look for the continuing story of innovation in services rather than keeping the focus on hardware and software? I'd suggest that we'll "rediscover" the pace of innovation when we start looking for it in the right places. Right now the blogosphere is addicted to measuring innovation by reporting on the output of information technology companies. But soon, I predict, a few of the hardest working, most insightful contributors will begin posting from the place of service. They'll begin reporting on remarkable advances in productivity by removing friction and improving communication in the service sector. Information technology and services will be applied in unforeseen ways to transform the way people serve on another; and the evidence will first appear to those who take the time and trouble to observe those individualized real world vignettes.

By the way, if I really want to find innovation, I click Kickstarter and search for projects in my neighborhood or city. The results are richly inspiring.

Again, a refreshingly thoughtful discussion. Now that I've found your blog, I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts. Thank you!

Jaime Amsel

Inspiring article and discussion, indeed. Thomas Pynchon wrote "“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.” It is as if he had in mind this discussion about innovation's progress or lack of. The MIT Review article suffers from "Technological Blinders." Not all innovation is Technological. Moreover, most innovation begins regardless of existing tech capability, and there are many examples of existing tech (i.e. Fax machine technology was available a century ahead of its use). Innovation is a state of mind, is social rather than technological and is a rare event, disruptive innovation is even rarer. Innovation requires vision, an increasing number of creative ideas (here quantity breeds quality) and risk taking. Questioning needs to be in the realm of rareness and around generating more (or less): "visioneering," creative ideas, risks taking (and who is taking those risks? - usually governments, not VC's) and a culture nurturing all these. My guess is that answers will be forthcoming from Social Innovation and not from Technological, this last one is myopic. I'm looking forward.

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