One does not have to look far these days to find an article or hear another story bemoaning the “death of innovation.” Almost exclusively they focus on the slackened pace in the introduction of ‘innovative’ technology products or services. For persons like myself (a tiny minority) this supposed slow down is less glaring since the original ‘innovations’ never felt all that innovative to begin with. However, no matter your position on that question I think a clarification is in order, because there seem to be a great deal of confusion with respect to the meaning and source of innovation. The point should be obvious, but it seems to have been forgotten in our obsession with all things tech. To put it simply, technology DOES NOT equal innovation. There are so, so, so, so many other innovations happening in the sciences (not technology) that they dwarf any supposed lack of innovation in the technology sector. These innovations are not seen, nor heard of, nor felt, by the vast majority of everyday persons but that does not mean they are not real, and they are happening every day in laboratories around the world. The slow march of science goes on behind the scenes as our obsession with technology never seems to abate. Technology is so much easier to understand, to feel, to see, and even to use, and that makes it much more easy to talk and write about. Ease of use and popularity are important attributes, but they should not be conflated with importance or influence because they are not directly correlated even if it seems so much that they must be. Speaking for myself and my colleagues, fellow research scientists all, we do not feel any complacency, and in fact have never been more excited to come to work everyday. Of course, for us, innovation is a slow methodical process so today feels just like any other.
*I prefer the term innovation processes since innovations are not ‘things’ that just ‘happen’ they slowly evolve out of a myriad of inputs to eventually emerge as what we consider an ‘innovation.’ Sometimes these are in the form of products or services but more often than not they are ideas or theories or new ways of thinking. As I say in the title of the post they are often unnoticed until we are already in the midst of them.