The Cradle of Innovation

Planning to turn your company into a powerful innovator? Start now. This stuff takes time.

Inventor’s Playgrounds:

I recently bumped into an old old copy of popular science online and couldn’t help from reading several issues from the 1940′s. Who knew that the inline skate was invented in France 70 years ago? I guess it took the invention of urethane wheels to make that dream come true…

The issues are full of inventions and ideas of the day. But the other thing that they all contain are DIY articles which assume that you have a lathe and the ability to cast bronze or iron. The fundamental abilities to build and make things yourself are inextricably tied to the inventions. Along with the Charles Atlas advertisements are countless training courses and programs promising to build you up into a “top pay” man excelling in the mechanical arts.

It struck me that invention for the most part is just an extension of work, and extension of what we do every day. That the factories and machine shops of the period were the cradle of an entire generation of inventors. That access to the means of production are a critical part of understanding the issues and challenges that innovation seeks to resolve.

Things are still the same today, except a bit more abstract at least here in the US. As production is moved abroad and becomes more automated, the knowledge and experience of production becomes more concentrated and held in the minds of fewer more senior people. The workfloor, the crade of innovation is now somewhere else.

Of course there are some industries where the shopfloor is still open. Software is one of those areas. Almost anyone can buy a computer and get started developing code. There are more people working in the software workshops in India and China than anywhere else.

This is where I should say that this explains why innovation is now globally dispersed rather than being concentrated in some areas. But I won’t. And I won’t say that it is because certain cultures are more “compatible” with innovation, because I don’t think that is sufficient or accurate.

But I will say that there is a generational aspect to innovation. Birth and maturity are not simultaneous. What is sown today is the crop we reap in years to come. And years are the critical factor. So-called incubators are strictly short-term. They are more like delivery rooms. The readiness for conception and the act of conception itself are already complete and have been developed in years previous. Harvesting is not sufficient, the seeds must be planted first.

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