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Reflecting On Past Innovations

| On 01, Nov 2007

James Todhunter

Everything is new at one time or another.  Of course, nothing stays that way.  I am reminded of this everyday.  However, it is easy to forget the innovations of the past as progress continues at its every quickening pace and yesterday’s breakthroughs fade into obscurity.  I was reminded of this point when I read “Techno Samhain” by fellow blogger and occasional commenter on Innovating To Win, Jim Belfiore.  As I read the piece, two thoughts filled my head.


The first thought was how little many designers and innovation workers think about the past.  This is really a shame because all innovations build on the past.  If you don’t have a good understanding of the past and the patterns represented by that past, you won’t be able to capitalize on it or avoid the mistakes of your predecessors.  The appreciation of the past is at the core of many innovation disciplines.


TRIZ for example is a direct distillation of the past so to speak.  Many of the core elements of TRIZ come from a focused study of the past as represented by patent documents.  That past is distilled and captured in a variety of TRIZ tools that form the foundation of the methodology.


The other second thought was how quickly we not only forget but also devalue the innovations of the past.  I have seen numerous statements calling for the abandonment of the light bulb as the symbol of innovation.  Oh, how the once mighty light bulb has fallen in the estimation of the modern practitioner.


The light bulb and its attendant infrastructure ecosystem have been truly transformational in the impact that has been felt by mankind around the globe.  We have emerged from the dark, not only figuratively, but quite literally.  Yet in the span of 127 years, the incandescent electric light bulb has gone from liberating technology to trite and antiquated symbol of innovation.


Personally, I like the light bulb.  I think it represents a rich tradition of innovation and the transformational power that forward thinking can have.  Don’t you?


[Crossposted from www.InnovatingToWin.com]