The Myth of Innovation [or Innovators?]

Today, I had a chance to start reading my copy of Business Brilliant by Lewis Schiff (affiliate link). Lewis analyzed the results of surveys he took that attempted to examine the thought and decision making processes exhibited by a few self made millionaires. People who had risen from very humble backgrounds and achieved remarkable feats and wealth in the process.

In one of the chapters, he talks about the myth that you need to come up with one ‘great, innovative idea’ to break out of the pack and achieve something outstanding that leads to wealth. I, personally am a big proponent of innovation. Doing something different, that has not been done before or approaching a new market in a different way that leads to more impact or profits.

Reading a few of the real stories around how some of the most respected innovators in our time execute their ideas, you get to realize that a lot of them did not exactly innovate in the plain, original sense of the word. A lot of them saw an opportunity, took already existing ideas or products, then repositioned them, making them better by learning from the mistakes of the original innovators.

Examples include the story of IBM, Microsoft, QDOS, MS-DOS and CP/M by Gary Kildall, the story of the ‘improved electric lamp’ commercialized by Thomas Edison but originally patented by Joseph Swan in Britain, the story of George Selden, who originally invented the ‘safe, simple and cheap road-locomotive’ that later got commercialized by Henry Ford.

My point is, we like to hear fairy tales of people who struggled, created something new and exciting, and as a result broke out of the pack to be remarkable and create wealth. However, the true story behind ‘the innovator’ we know most times is that of a person who saw an opportunity and found the quickest and most effective way to take advantage of it. A lot of times, the innovator didn’t innovate. They imitated. But, they still earn the title of the innovator, because it is arguable that the idea is not an innovation by itself. It is not complete until it finds utility in the hands of its innovator, who then makes it a commercially viable success.

Food for thought.


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