27 April 2009

Innovation Never Decreases

The great thing about innovation is that it builds on itself. The problem is that people always seem to think it doesn't.

It is not so much that every time a new innovation appears, especially a disruptive one, people publicly claim that nothing will ever top it. It is that people seem to instinctively think that a great new idea will stop more things from happening than it will initiate the beginning of. When nuclear weapons were invented people claimed it would end warfare.

The reality is that new ideas only lead to more new ideas. Yes, innovations often make something else obsolete, but they never render it completely unnecessary. By way of example, the enemy cannot launch a nuke, if you disable their hand.

Yes, a nuke is crazy effective at what it does, but it does not do everything. The invention of nuclear weapons did not render anything which had been invented before unnecessary (ED: like knives). You can see this same pattern in any other area of innovation. The invention of transistors did not render vacuum tubes unnecessary. The invention of graphic design did not render painting unnecessary.

All an innovation does is expand on what came before. It gives us new options. Because an innovation creates new options, without completely invalidating the previous options, it expands the collective number of options. This means that there are now more things to be innovated upon, which means more innovations, which means the number of options expands exponentially. It is equivalent to the expansion of the area of a circle (ED: quadratic) as the circumference increases.

Innovation is a process that makes itself more likely. Any new innovation will only provide a new possibility; it will not negate the possibilities that came before.


  1. First post!

    I love what you're doing here. One correction, though: the area of a circle grows "quadratically" with respect to its circumference, not exponentially. Not many nice geometric things grow exponentially. That's why it's such a surprise when things do.

  2. Thanks! I'll be more specific next time.