What Happened to Innovation?

I frequently hear grumblings within the technology industry about the lack of innovation being observed. To many it seems like product and technology advancements are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Generally this is true as innovations spark new product opportunities and can carry a product category for some time as each new generation provides incremental and or monumental improvements.Now although the definition of innovation can include invention, or the creation of something new, I don't think it depends on it. Something can be innovative and not necessarily be new. A fresh approach to something old or past failure can be considered innovative.

It would be silly to say innovation is dead. A more relevant observation is that innovation is difficult and not everyone can do it. Too often in the business realm complacency is not what kills innovation itself but instead what dies is the spirit of innovation.

One of the other problems facing the industry is that too often the market rewards a lack of innovation. I'm not saying this is all together bad but it can be distracting when non-innovative products are successful simply because they are low cost. The culture of a corporation at an institutional level is what needs to change if we are to expect more innovation from those who drive the industry forward.

3M is the poster child for the model we see today, where companies like Google and many others technical employees are encouraged to take a percentage of paid time working on side entrepreneurial projects. This is creating a culture of innovation and the companies that do it are rewarded. 3M can pin a number of the companies huge successes like Scotch Tape and the Post It to that model. Google even says that 50% of the companies products come from their employees entrepreneurial time spent.

Innovation Can Come From Anywhere

It should however not just be up to companies or institutions to innovate. I think we may be on the cusp of one of the most innovative periods the technology industry has ever seen. The continual drop of component costs will mean the cost to be innovative will decline. As it becomes less expensive for anyone to get their hands on the components they need to innovate and even invent we should expect new innovations popping up from even the most unlikely of places.

As long as innovation is rewarded it will live on. Hopefully the spirit of innovation will again become commonplace in today's companies as it was during the industrial age. As I said before, it is not easy and not everyone can innovate, but innovation can come from anywhere.

What are your thoughts on innovation?