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What is innovation?

Having just heard from a funder with the word innovation in its name that a concept note in disaster risk reduction that we submitted was not innovative enough, I’ve been thinking about this slippery term. Then comes along the NYT tech columnist Farhad Manjoo:

There is a rich history in this industry of taking someone else’s idea and adding your own spin on it to improve tech for everyone. Apple’s Steve Jobs and the team behind the original Mac were inspired by a bunch of ideas floating around tech research circles, including at Xerox PARC. Then Microsoft’s chief executive, Bill Gates, saw the Mac’s success and — by creating a new business model for the PC industry — he ushered in an even bigger deal: graphical computers that could get cheap enough for most people to own.

Or look at the smartphone. Apple created the iPhone, but if the tech industry had stopped there, smartphones wouldn’t have swept the world very quickly. Instead, Google more or less copied Apple’s software ideas in early versions of Android, and Samsung essentially copied Apple’s hardware. Economics kicked in, smartphones got really cheap, and they flooded the globe. And everyone did better: In time, Samsung hit on its own big idea — huge phones — that Apple copied, and Apple then made a bundle.

1 Comment to What is innovation?

  1. Sanjiva Weerawarana's Gravatar Sanjiva Weerawarana
    April 20, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Except this guy is flat out wrong … Gates and Jobs were independent innovators who came up at once.

    Similarly, Android was not a copy of iOS at all. What iOS did was make them go all touch; see:

    I thought NYT meant the reporters were at least slightly clueful.


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