Practical innovation explains how per-capita wealth increased eightfold during the last century. Yet, we are constantly reminded that we never invent anything new:
- Most movies are remake or variations on older movies.
- Most research papers are variation on a theme.
- Most products and services are variations on existing products and services.
Even if I invent something recognized as drastically novel, I am sure someone will say “oh! but we did that 20 years ago.” A recent example are the tag clouds which have no equivalent in my pre-Web textbooks. Yet, I am sure we can show that they are variation on much older visualization techniques.
- They do not carry a cell phone and must run back to a land line to get help. (Update: toward the end of the season, we learn that Scully has a cell phone.)
- Even though agent Scully uses a DOS word processor (probably Word Perfect), all their archives are on paper or microfilms.
- While Scully has a modem, it is not clear that she uses any networked application. Agent Mulder does not use a computer? I found no sign of the Web.
- Files are not shared. For example, Mulder has his own files (the X-files) and apparently, others must come to him to have (paper) copies.
The key? Progress is incremental. Human beings are gregarious for a reason: our innovation process is social. Innovation occurs when new ideas are put into action by society.
For researchers wanting to create innovation, there are several implications:
- You can only be an effective researcher if you are an effective communicator.
- You should be connected as much as possible to the rest of society. It is not sufficient to impress the ivory tower: you must reach out.