In this day and age, we are constantly concerned with improving every experience that we have. It doesn’t matter whether we are updating our apps to make sure that they run faster, purchasing a new laptop to make sure that it can hold more memory, or fitting out our home with an up-to-date home theater system – the bottom line is that we are constantly trying to make sure that we improve our experiences to be better, faster, and more complete. However, we often get distracted from the realization that invention is often the catalyst for innovation.
Most innovative startups
We all know that the internet is used by billions of people, but the point is that ultimately we have to make sure that as a society, we are creating as much as we are consuming. There are innovative startups that are able to take several millions of dollars of funding, and turn these several millions of dollars into a several-billion dollar conglomerate. Of course, it is this kind of wealth creation that employs thousands of people, injects money into local economies, and helps entire countries maintain a technological dominance. Often times, it is this kind of story that is publicized.
Innovation, however, is not as talked about as often. The truth is that with innovation, companies aren’t created – but instead, whole industries are created out of nothing. This often means that millions of dollars in research actually lead to trillions of dollars of economic impact. Consider this: if a company develops a new airplane, whether it is military or commercial, it may be a new technological advancement. If it is a truly revolutionary technology, it may lead to all sorts of purchases from countries around the world, who want to make sure that they have the latest and greatest, in terms of aviation. Of course – an innovative new airplane is a great advancement. However, we all can agree that the creation of the invention that REPLACES the airplane will provide a whole new sector – that will immediately lead to trillions of dollars, and the rise of billion-dollar companies, as it will be a new frontier. We see this countless times, as technologies replace each other – whether we are talking about music, movies, fax machines, or smartphones. The bottom line is that it takes invention to create the incredible devices that we use every day, and that ultimately; invention trumps innovation.
It should also be pointed out that invention isn’t always exactly embraced properly, because it is often only understood in hindsight. The obvious example is Galileo Galilei, whose revolutionary ideas were challenged by the Inquisition. He was placed on house arrest as a result until his death, and all of humanity suffered because an inventive mind wasn’t able to explore and make new discoveries for our benefit. Of course, we all understand now that he was a great mind. Similarly, research can lead to discoveries that can cause entire companies and conglomerates to pivot. This can greatly upset middle management, who are simply concerned with maintaining the status quo, and a steady stream of revenue, rather than creating a whole new revenue. In fact, Xerox actually ended up firing a pioneer who helped create the laser printer instead of rewarding him. This sounds ridiculous, of course, but it led to a worldwide industry, where Japan started creating laser printers in competition with the United States. Of course, this led to Xerox making billions of dollars, but in many cases, management would much rather make millions in a comfortable way rather than make billions in a new uncomfortable way. Of course, management doesn’t have the passion of a research scientist, so there is a fundamental difference between someone being ignited by the discoveries that their research provides, and an executive who is simply trying to keep a balance sheet looking a certain way.
We can also conclude that one of the reasons why innovation is put on a pedestal, while innovation is often forgotten, is because of our need for instant gratification. The truth is that research takes a long time, and a lot of money. Some of the great minds that might be able to dedicate themselves to worthy social causes and could really cause change in the world in decades, instead divert attention to a project that could make them a lot of money in less time. This is not to suggest that they are less honorable: every human being has their responsibilities, whether it is their own needs and desires or families to support. It is very hard to take the same intellectual energy and decide that, instead of money, that you want to solve a big problem – such as making sure that more water in the world is drinkable, for example. The minds that could be taking on the gigantic problem of climate change may instead realize that they could be financially secure for the rest of their lives if they decide to work for a tech startup for a social media company, and the choice is made.
The world-famous artist Pablo Picasso once said “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”. One of the reasons why Facebook is one of the largest and most powerful companies in the world was because Mike Zuckerberg’s early motto was to “move fast and break things”. Both of these quotes show that there is an underlying philosophy that isn’t about updating or improving – but is about taking it a step further, and attempting to bring the ideas of the future to present day. We all know that as wonderful as marketing, public relations, media, and manufacturing can be – it all ultimately has to start with an idea, a sketch on a paper, a prototype, and an invention. It is well-known that some of the most important companies in the world, started with some passion, in a garage. This is why while we are all constantly innovating for the next day, we must never forget that there is immense potential in inventing for the next decade, or century.