Invention and Innovation

Innovation matters more today than ever. There is so much invention that we don’t know how to use effectively.

Innovation is the newer skill.

Centuries ago invention was uncommon. People had decades to adapt. Innovation did not matter much. Not so now.

To deal with innovating we must notice that invention precedes. It is like research and development. One is science the other engineering. Idea and application.

Applying new ideas in new ways is quite difficult and the difficulty springs from two factors.

Inventions are strategic.

Like metals, printing press, energy, electronic communication, and the Internet. They create possibilities. Think how metals changed things and how long it took. It takes people quite a long time to assimilate strategic change.

Some inventions are so superior to what existed prior that old ways of implementing disappear. Transistors replaced vacuum tubes nearly instantly, but there was a lapse before they did anything much different. Fifteen or so years later, integrated circuits came available. This new implementation led to powerful computers.

Computers do little you could not do with a pencil, but they do it instantly. In theory, you could operate the Internet the same way the telephone company used operators to run its network. Bit slower though.

Inventions are exponential.

Each new one creates an opportunity for more. More leads to hundreds more again, each based on an earlier discovery.  There is no evidence of it slowing down.

Charles Deull’s idea in 1899 that the patent office should close because everything had been invented seems odd. It would be even more odd today.

We must prepare ourselves for many new and crucial changes to our world.

So to innovation.

Innovation is how to apply the inventions

The iPhone is a device that implements advances in many areas. Glass, electronics, telephone switching, batteries, camera, music formats, motion pictures, antenna, manufacturing techniques,  and the internet. All in a small space for an affordable price. A formidable task.

The iPhone is an innovation. A way to apply inventions.

Why do innovations seem surprising?

Because they allow a new use. Inventions are not usable. Sometimes it takes decades for the uses to be available.

Take DNA. The first sequencing cost millions and took years. Soon $1 million could do it. In 2010 Steve Jobs spent $100,000 to assist in his cancer fight. Today $1,000 would do it, and in hours.

Soon medication will be prescribed to match a genetic profile. Today, dosage is decided based on balancing cure and side effects. If I would have side effects, I will get another drug. If you would not, you could have a larger dose. More effective.

Will that lead to new treatment methods? I think so

Why is innovation so hard?

Because in the beginning, we don’t know what we want or could have. We don’t usually see the possibilities until we see the product or process.

We do not adapt to change very well. Change hurts before it supplies the benefit. We like familiar even if it is inefficient.

We are linear while the world around us is exponential. We are strangers in a new land without moving.

What happens when we change slowly in a world that changes quickly?

We need a cue to change.

Suppose we ask ourselves this, “If we were just starting to solve this problem, would we choose the current method of solution?”

The answer is often no, because the current method runs on old technology.

If we clearly design the purpose of our task, we can search inventions for ones that could help. Then we devise a product or process that achieves our goal. Then evolve even better answers.

Like education. You can see where it is heading if you look at The Khan Academy. A way to use the Internet to teach. The Internet teaches, teachers track, motivate and explain.

The same thing in medicine. Computers diagnose, practitioners counsel and perform procedures.

Innovation is exciting and anyone can do it.

Invention might be too, but I am not smart enough for that.

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you.  866-285-7772

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