No self-respecting entrepreneur or CEO would ever admit that his or her organization is not innovative. Innovation has become a must have attribute along with being customer-focused and environmentally responsible. Unfortunately, despite all the talk, the reality is a little more depressing and true innovation remains rare. There are a lot of incremental improvements wrapped up in slick marketing campaigns that are touted as breakthroughs.
Ironically my cynicism has been re-enforced by reading Vinnie Mirchandani’s new book, The New Polymath (Wiley 2010) Mirchandani describes an eclectic range of people and organizations that are seeking to excel across multiple disciplines (the definition of a polymath) in the manner of Da Vinci, Churchill, Jefferson or Franklin to deliver both commercial and social value.
I’ve known Mirchandani for more than a decade and he is one of the most astute observers of tech trends and is always able to see through the hype to the reality. The New Polymath delivers an intriguing commentary on current tech-related innovation from the use of social media for commercial advantage to the search for clean- and green-tech solutions to our environmental challenges. Much of it sounds exciting—using social networking to drive deeper understanding of autism, delivering sophisticated technology solutions at little or no cost which allows even the smallest organization to compete in the global marketplace yet I came away a little disappointed. Make no mistake, today’s technologies be it the iPhone, the decoded human genome, or the computing cloud, are stunning achievements but much of the purported innovation appears more incremental than revolutionary. After all isn’t Software as a Service (SaaS) really just timesharing for the 21st century? Aren’t social networks simply a means to accelerate and extend traditional ernetworking beyond geographic limits? Is nanotech simply a logical extension of the move from valves to transistors to chips?
We seem to be in a holding pattern waiting for the next “Big Thing” to happen and many incumbents (Oracle, SAP, Mircosoft, Big Pharma, Big Oil) have a vested interest in milking the status quo. A few such as GE, Apple and Google seem serious about disruptive innovation and appear to have few qualms about cannibalizing today’s business in exchange for leadership tomorrow. The New Polymath also profiles a number of smaller players seeking to change the rules of the game from Cognizant in cloud computing, salesforce.com in enterprise software to MedicalMine which has developed ChARM, the Children’s Autism Recovery Map, to help parents of autistic children track treatment results. Much of it is fascinating but it does not appear that innovations along the lines of the electric light bulb, the telephone, or the internal combustion engine that will fundamentally change life for decades to come are on the horizon. Of course, that almost certainly means that such innovations are imminent!
To find out more about Vinnie check out his Deal Architect blog here.