I am about 75% done reading The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun (first edition), but I decided to post about what I’ve learned from it already since it’s Myths of Innovation day. The book has been a great read, challenging our perceptions about how innovation occurs by examining the roots of those perceptions, and looking closely at how it actually occurs.
One of the first things that I found interesting was the way it highlighted the common view that innovation occurs by some chance event, or because something magical happened to a worthy intellect. In fact, the word “Muse”, used to describe sources of inspiration, is derived from a set of Greek goddesses that were believed to provide that inspiration. Clearly, early civilizations viewed innovation as purely magical, and to an extent, that view has carried over into today.
Similarly, innovators are immortalized as having carried out a piece of our collective destiny by executing on some mammoth realization. In reality, innovations generally occur as incremental improvements upon the ideas of others, conceived of to solve a specific problem, often without having any idea of the degree of change that would be ushered in by their innovation. (Facebook, ne, FaceMash anyone?)
Both the source of innovation and the people who contributed to it are vastly over-simplified in the historical accounts that we typically read about in the news or learn about in school. The reason is that the real explanation for how innovation occurs is more complex and much less romantic, for lack of a better word.
Innovation is typically the result of someone putting in a lot of hard work for a long time refining the efforts of others to solve a specific problem. Even hard work on the right problem must be accompanied by the right circumstances to achieve any results. Furthermore, for those results to be developed into a significant innovation, the results must be delivered to people around them in the right way. People need to understand the advancement, how they will benefit from it, and not be scared of any potential risks associated with it (and they need to hear about it in the first place). At that point, it’s possible that if the stars are aligned in such a way that the right people will benefit from applying the innovation to a series of unforeseen (and possibly larger) problems, then the innovator be recognized by the annals of history and lauded in the media, unlike all the intermediate works that were built upon and their inventors, as well as technically superior inventions that weren’t successfully presented to the world.
Want to know more? Read the book! I highly recommend it.