Innovation, Innovators, and Economics

We are taking several different looks at innovation and what makes it so central to business today. We heard from two Zintro experts who looked at innovation from interesting and similar perspectives.

Louis Figueroa, and expert with over 30 years experience in technology strategy, planning, and research and development, says that innovation is complex, and since the beginnings of the industrial revolution, technology innovation has been at the core of economic progress. “People such as Tyler Cowen (The Great Stagflation) and Peter Thiel (The End of the Future) have argued that innovation has reached a local plateau in the last 20 years, except possibly in the information technology domain,” Figueroa says. “However, innovators like Steve Jobs have continually shown that society hungers for new products that are simple to use, elegant in design, and provide previously unknown utility. They have continuously applied Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma methodology and Schumpeter’s Creative Destruction to invent and reinvent the future.”

Figueroa points out several key attributes that are important for innovation in our current rapidly changing environment:

  • Simplicity of design, interfaces, and operation;
  • Elegance and the principle that less is more is an integral part of the design;
  • New and useful functionality with hints that more will come in future generations;
  • Affordable, seamless integration of hardware, software, and services; and
  • Technology infrastructure creating an industrial commons that amplifies positive feedback among disparate technology developments.

Walter Isaacson has noted his biography of Steve Jobs that Jobs’ design and product development philosophy embodied the intersection of the humanities with technology and the Zen/Taoist principle that less is more when it comes to IT products. “It is a tribute to Steve Jobs that when one bought an Apple product you pretty much knew how it operated by just looking and playing with it. That is the essence of great innovation: it just seems obvious and neat in hindsight,” says Figueroa.

Who are today’s up and coming innovators? Figueroa thinks about

  • Jeff Bezos and how he has transformed retailing;
  • Jeff Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Reid Hoffman and the evolution of social information networks;
  • Bill Gates’ transformation of the PC as an everyday tool, and his evolution of the global charity organization;
  • Craig Venter and the revolution in synthetic biology;
  • Burt Rutan and the development of cheap space vehicles using composites; and
  • Richard Branson with the continuous reinvention of what constitutes entertainment.

Carlvon Ramsingh, an expert in strategic planning, refers to Joseph Schumpeter, a person who is considered the father of developmental economics. “Schumpeter postulated that growth in the economy is derived from the outward push of the boundaries of equilibrium. In other words, when equilibrium is achieved in the economy, growth can only take place when that equilibrium is disturbed and expanded. This expansion takes place, however, not from the invention of new products, but by making use of what is already had or acquired. So that new products are improved through better processes that create greater efficiency and effectiveness,” Ramsingh says. “The growth and expansion brought about through globalization has roots in this Shumpeterian logic, and this need for the outward push, occasioned a great deal by the entrepreneur, is really what is at the heart of innovation, the need to create better and better products and services. Better products and services that bring benefit not only to business, but also to society.”

Ramsingh thinks that Steve Jobs was driven by this Shumpeterian logic. “He innovated and innovated, and this is why he was so successful. This continuous pushing out at the boundaries of the equilibrium was at the heart of his success. His entrepreneurial spirit gave him the ability to see what no one else saw, and he took risks to achieve those goals,” he says. “The people and organizations who understand the times we live in from the perspective of global existence and a universal understanding of the problems of our time are the ones who will be the new innovators.”

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