For the past few years, some have justifiably questioned whether innovation has been going through a period of stagnation, especially when compared to major 19th and 20th century innovations like electricity, cars and airplanes. Have we pretty much stopped solving big problems? “We wanted flying cars - instead we got 140 characters,” is how PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel succinctly expressed this sentiment in a 2011 New Yorker article.
Others argue that while the nature of innovation is definitely changing as we evolve and adapt to an information-based digital economy, it’s impact is no less transformative. Last week, for example, I discussed a recent article in Wired by Kevin Kelly on the future of AI. Kelly fully expects that AI will transform the global economy and civilization in general, much as electricity did more than a century ago. “Everything that we formerly electrified we will now cognitize,” he said. “There is almost nothing we can think of that cannot be made new, different, or interesting by infusing it with some extra IQ… This is a big deal, and now it’s here.” I totally agree.
An equally optimistic view was expressed in another excellent article, - How Smart Connected Products are Transforming Competition, - published in the November issue of the Harvard Business Review by Michael Porter and James Heppelmann.
We generally think of products as physical entities, - e.g., clothes, light bulbs, appliances, cars, - some quite simple and some much more complex, built using sophisticated mechanical and/or electrical components. The article introduces a whole new class of smart connected products - “complex systems that combine hardware, sensors, data storage, microprocessors, software, and connectivity in myriad ways.”