Innovation: always in the last place you look

10 February 2017
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Reading time: 1 minute

A google image search reveals that the universal symbol for “innovation” is the incandescent electric light bulb. Putting aside that the lightbulb has been a zombie technology for many years, what can the history of the creation of the bulb tell us about innovation?

From the earliest proof of concept by Davy to the introduction of the modern tungsten filament bulb was a period of around a century, during which the lightbulb was invented, refined, reinvented, modified and commercialised again and again by dozens of people. This is the nature of innovation, and of engineering. Problem solving moved back and forth between primarily technical exploration and primarily economic exploration as new solutions are tested in the market.

In fact the lightbulb is a good symbol for innovation, but only if innovation is understood to be an iterative, incremental, evolutionary process. There is no “lightbulb moment”, or rather there is a long series of them.

Follow the link to the slides from my lightning talk to the #digitalnorth group in Manchester on innovation which explore this model in more detail.


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