We write a lot about the fact the failure is an essential part of innovation, but we often don’t consider the extent to which failure has been a part of every innovation, including something as ubiquitous and universally accepted as an innovation, as the incandescent light bulb. A recent article in the New York Times Magazine says,
We tend to rewrite the histories of technological innovation, making myths about a guy who had a great idea that changed the world. In reality, though, innovation isn’t the goal; it’s everything that gets you there. It’s bad financial decisions and blueprints for machines that weren’t built until decades later. It’s the important leaps forward that synthesize lots of ideas, and it’s the belly-up failures that teach us what not to do.
When we ignore how innovation actually works, we make it hard to see what’s happening right in front of us today. If you don’t know that the incandescent light was a failure before it was a success, it’s easy to write off some modern energy innovations — like solar panels — because they haven’t hit the big time fast enough.
Worse, the fairy-tale view of history implies that innovation has an end. It doesn’t. What we want and what we need keeps changing. The incandescent light was a 19th-century failure and a 20th- century success. Now it’s a failure again, edged out by new technologies, like LEDs, that were, themselves, failures for many years.
The article goes on to highlight 32 different tech innovations that will change the world like the light bulb did, and even predicts the time period in which the change will happen. These include electric clothes that integrate your mp3 player, analytical underwear that encourages you to exercise, a morning multi-tasker that could do away with traditional screens (imagine turning any surface into a television, from a wall to the back of your hand), a smart bicycle that is anti-theft and anti-grease, and 28 more intriguing ideas. Read the rest of the article here.
Hat tip: Shiv Kehr