Is Innovation Dead? Hardly.

"The need to constantly innovate applies to product, strategy, marketing, and every other facet of your business."

I’m willing to go out on a limb and make a prediction today that I pledge to stand by:

Tomorrow’s prognosticators will be just as wrong as today’s prognosticators.

With apologies to Nostradamus adherents, if history has taught us anything, it’s that those who attempt to predict the future always get it wrong. I bring this up today because once again someone has sounded the death knell of innovation.

Recreating a recent debate between two Northwestern University colleagues, The  Wall Street Journal reported, “Robert Gordon, a curmudgeonly 73-year-old economist, believes our best days are over. After a century of life-changing innovations that spurred growth, he says, human progress is slowing to a crawl.”

A new Dark Age?

If what Gordon says is true, it would mean that we’re going into another “dark age” that condemns humans to a stagnation in which neither our material life nor our intellectual life will advance. It’s a gloomy picture and certainly not one that will motivate millennials or any of the other yet-to-be-labelled generations.

Professor Gordon may be a brilliant man in many ways, but he suffers from an affliction that plagues many of us: he is unable to see what is not there. I once heard someone reconstruct a conversation that might have very well occurred out in the wilds of Kentucky in the middle of winter, 1809:

“What’s new”

“Nothing that matters much. I hear the Lincolns had a boy the other day.”

A quick look at US patent application figures shows us that the number of applications in 2013 (154,891) was more than three times greater than the figure just 20 years earlier, which were 48,531. I think one lesson we can learn from this is that innovation inspires innovation.

Ideas lead to more ideas

If we can just take one recent innovation—the smart phone—we can think of hundreds of other significant inventions that were spurred by its invention. The list would include all kinds of apps, services and hardware. For example, right now there seems to be an explosion of fitness monitors coming to market. These would have been inconceivable, Professor Gordon, just a few years ago.

Not long ago I wrote about, where they field hundreds of inventive ideas every week, select the best, then manufacture and market them. I love it because the website is built on the age-old essence of invention: find a need and fill it; or as the proverb puts it: Necessity is the mother of invention.

This is also the foundation of success for a small business—identifying needs and providing ways to satisfy them. And if you’ve been bogged down recently in the day-to-day operations of your small business, I suggest you devote a little time to reflection and brainstorming.

Consider what you have learned about your customers and clients, or re-engage your base in dialog. Identify needs that are currently going unmet, or for which you can design a better solution. Remember, sometimes they won’t even realize what they need until you demonstrate it to them.

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