The breadth and depth of innovation ~ Abaster

29 March 2009

The breadth and depth of innovation

Once in a while one stumbles across an article or commentary that gives dimension and/or context to one's interests and endeavors. For those who interested in innovation in all its facets, and particularly those looking at the changing nature of innovation, a brief article by Lawrence Husick, a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, outlining the "25 most important innovations" (of all time) is a fascinating read. The list is broad and varied, and breaks down roughly into 3 groupings: the first directly related to developments in sciences and technology, the second to organizational and skills related change, and the third to developments in ideas and thinking.

Husick's definition of innovation is particularly apropos to today's discussion of the role, value and need for design and innovation. He talks about innovation as "a process of making changes by introducing valuable new methods, ideas, or products. “Innovations” are the things themselves--the ideas, methods, and processes. It’s not simply that better mousetrap; it’s different ways of thinking and doing. Innovations may of course be inventions, but they may also be beliefs, organizational methods, and discoveries."

When one considers developments in the design space it is all about new areas of application - no longer just product/industrial design, but design across services, systems, structures and organizations. Humankind has been innovating and designing in these spaces since the dawn of time (as the list so admirably shows) driving and deriving value from innovations that are not easily traded or bartered. With a 20th century value system (value in the sense of both belief and price) that is based on the individual and not the group (or the community), we have lost any notion of the value of that which is important to society. The systems (e.g. education) and structures (e.g. infrastructure) upon which society is dependent are woefully under-resourced and the time for the application for efficiency and efficacy-driven transformation design approaches, among others, is nigh. After-all, innovation should not just be about "high" technology (a very blinkered 21st century view) but about the evolution of the entire economic, political and societal construct within which we live our lives.