In his last column in Technology Review in December 2004, Michael Schrage talked about the importance of the diffusion of innovation. He made a lot of very trenchant observations, including
The challenge for policymakers and populations alike is how to cope with the pervasive-and perverse-consequences of ever more people gaining access to ever more innovations that offer ever greater impact for ever lower costs. Why? Because diffusion is inherently messy and unpredictable, and because the ingeneuity of a technology’s adopters more than rivals the creativity of its original innovators. We ignore this at our peril.
I am going to use this quote as a stepping-off point for several posts this week, and I start with a “how cool is this?” example that illustrates the multi-dimensional dynamic of innovation. You know the story: you get a new technology, you say “gee, that’s cool, but I wish it could also do X”. Then you get on with your life. But chances are, there are other people out there who also want it to do X. One of those folks, imbued with entrepreneurial spirit and seeing an opportunity, innovates a new product or service that does X. Not only do those of you who wanted X to begin with benefit, but those of us who didn’t realize we wanted X before also benefit, because in the process of creating the innovation and bringing it to market we discover our preferences over X relative to other product and service offerings out there, given our budget constraint. Our preferences feed into innovation, and what’s more important and more overlooked, innovation feeds into our preferences. All the more reason why Hayek was bang-on right when he said that competition is a discovery procedure: the action is in the dynamics of innovation, not in the static discovery of my liking Fresca better than Diet Pepsi.
I offer as Exhibit A a somewhat frivolous example, but when I saw it, it made me metaphorically smack my head and say “of course!” 411song will, for 99 cents, identify a song and send you a text message with the song and artist information, and a link to get the mp3 of the song.
- Hear a song you love.
- Call (866) 411-SONG.
- Wait for the beep and hold your cell near the music for just 15 seconds.
- We identify the song and send you a text with all the song info (artist and song name) and a link to GET it.
Sure, it’s frivolous, but I’d be willing to wager that it’ll profit.
Hat tip to Daily Candy, one of my favorite daily fun reads.