Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Nature is Prodigal in Variety, though Niggard in Innovation"

While many recognize this observation from Charles Darwin's closing chapter in The Origin of Species, he had borrowed it from Henri Milne-Edwards.

Both of these naturalists were struck by the lack of dramatic innovation in the evolution of living things, and the preponderance of minimal variation and refinement of traits across species and time.

Looking at product development, modern observers see a repetitive pattern of trial and error -- dominated by the refinement and combination of existing ideas and technologies to create products and services that will be selected by consumers.

Interview with the author of "The Myths of Innovation"

If, in life and business, creativity and innovation are nothing but adjectives that accrue to those willing to try and fail over long periods of time -- what leads to our lack of patience in promoting trial and error, and letting creativity and innovation occur naturally?

How much has the belief that creativity is a personality trait cost businesses over time -- as they invested in ideas based on personalities, rather than consumer selection?

Or has it cost business anything at all?

Could the beliefs in dramatic innovation and creativity be -- like religious beliefs -- the stuff of thought that helps keep groups organized around a common activity, and committed to one another in businesses?


Anonymous said...

I'm confused on something: So, let's say, hypothetically, that there is a sales and marketing organization - hell, why not a whole company - that is captured under the spell and enamored with the group-think sources of power and security and belonging: But they are wrong.
Sort of analogous to this concept of prodigious variety and niggardly innovation - prodigious ideas, but only a few truths. And yet, like believers in the New York Times, or conventional "wisdom" - how does the fact that it is conventional make it right, make it correct, make it truth? I'm missing something here (this largely refers to our other e-mail conversation but I had to come back to this posting, as it is what tripped the trigger, so to speak).

your friend,

spandrel said...

Your response is very interesting.

(Since writing the blog entry, I've received an issue of "Enterpreneur" magazine, with the title "Get Innovative!" blazoned on the cover.)

In my original post, there was no right or wrong. My main points were these:

"Innovation is really only known after the fact" -- its not really something you start out to be, its only something you realized you were.

Businesses -- particularly successful ones -- are built on providing goods and services that can't be obtained elsewhere, there are often innovative events tied to many of them.

Due to this tie, many people think that it is essential to be innovative to create a major business achievement. However, the key to a successful business may often be growing a proprietary idea into a competitive advantage. Those attempts at growing the idea can be deemed innovative later if they are successful.

Returning to Darwin's observation... looking back at the fossil record, there are many cases where change can be seen -- but few cases of radically different change. Hence his use of the title.

In business, Innovation and the potential of big profits may be used by leader to stimulate loyalty and improve morale amongst their followers -- much as supernatural promises provide hope and motivation for religious adherents.

Most religious people I know don't believe they can conjur up miracles on demand; but most could point to event from their life that they bieleve involved supernatural intervention.

I'm saying that innovation function in a similar fashion for business organizations.

However, the success of both business and religious life rests on the ability to daily diligence, working hard day in and day out, and adapting from trial and error.