more innovation everywhere has many examples of bad ideas, which, probably, won’t spread…

When I talked about Voodoo Histories by Aaronovitch the other day, I maybe stretched things a bit when I talked about Crocs as a bad idea that spread. In fact, several parts of that post weren’t very clear. I think a better description of Aaronovitch’s main idea is that conspiracy theories arise when there is some kind of empirical fact that a particular group has to explain away – in many cases the easiest option is to blame it on a conspiracy. There are two current examples of this taking place. The first it the lunatic idea currently circulating in the US that Barrack Obama is not a US citizen, and that consequently his election is the result of some kind of conspiracy. This appears to be an easier idea for some people to swallow than the fact that his policies were more popular than McCain’s. In fact, this is a variation of the fairly common political reaction in the US – ‘people voted for the guy we don’t like because they were fooled’. Liberals trotted out this argument far too often during the Reagan and Bush eras.

The second example, and one more in line with the examples in the book is going on in Iran, where over 100 members of the opposition party are going on trial. In this case, the empirical fact that won’t go away is the extensive rioting that occurred after the recent election. Ahmadinejad’s supporters can’t really say that the riots happened because they stole the election, so instead they have developed an elaborate conspiracy theory. The actual charges in this case are that the “reformist political groups have been working with foreigners to foment a popular uprising against the government”. That’s why we had riots, apparently.

So, bad ideas spread in these cases because they explain away uncomfortable facts. The question that arises in trying to map this to business is: do bad innovations spread for the same reason? I’m not entirely convinced that they do, and that’s why my Crocs example was a bit of a stretch.

I still wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of them though…

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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2 thoughts on “more innovation everywhere

  1. Tim, since your post on Crocs and their sudden obsolescence I’d been thinking about an innovation issue. Well, two actually. First one:

    We’ve debated in a class on electronic waste. Because the development cycles for computers and related electronics have been so fast as technology has moved so rapidly, there is now tons of delivered poisonous waste from e-waste seeping into the systems of underdeveloped countries, where it is cheaper to recycle, and their governments don’t regulate the poisons their citizens are exposed to. In the case of electronics, it didn’t even need to be planned obsolescence, since the advancement of technology has moved so fast. But in cases of planned obsolescence – things that break after so long – it would be even better, since it contributes enormously to landfill waste.

    One proposed solution is to have manufacturers bear the cost of recycling the very goods they made. This can be accomplished in one of two ways:

    – Make manufacturers pay a per-unit deposit to the government redeemable upon recycle, not unlike when you pay a deposit when you buy a bottle or a can at the store. If you don’t return it, you don’t get your 5 or 10 cents back.
    – Simply legally require manufacturers to request their goods back and make sure they are ethically recycled at the end of their useful lives.

    That puts the onus on them to make their stuff easier to recycle once its useful life has ended, and get their things back from purchasers when they’re done with them rather than have their purchasers toss them into a landfill.

    Second one:

    Clearly, no one has ever been able to successfully design a business model that allows for a product that doesn’t break. Everyone knows the light bulb story: yes, there are light bulbs that will burn forever without burning out, but the companies that made them are long gone, some over a hundred years ago.

    When considering the case of Crocs, the obvious mistake made was enormous business growth without recognition of the fact that with a product that never breaks, the useful (rather than faddish) rise in popularity for this product was going to only have a limited time. My question is: Would it be possible to plan a life cycle of a company that was going to wind down to a “maintenance only” stage at some point? Is that sustainable from a business standpoint? Because if that were the case, we could take all these older machines that were manufactured to last a very, very long time – washers, dryers, microwaves, VCRs, refrigerators, vehicles even – and simply maintain or upgrade them in the home.

    Here where I live, we don’t tear down our old houses, we simply upgrade the technology used. This saves enormous amounts of resources. (In Japan, they do tear down one generation old houses. Pity.) We replace insulation with better insulation, put new siding on, put new roofs on, replace windows, patch cracked foundations – but it’s the exception to completely raze a house and start over. In my particular neighborhood, the only time old buildings are torn down is when they’re only one story and a multistory building with underground parking is going to take its place – in other words, a change so huge and so beneficial to the neighborhood that it is worth it to destroy something old. (In some cases they still don’t tear down the old building. Take the case of a former Chevrolet dealership turned Whole Foods Market down the street from me and a couple of blocks from Powell’s – it’s better seen than explained. In the old days of longer-lasted machines, this meant more work for repairmen.

    Today, planned obsolescence means no fixing and the work repairmen find is in the sole(?) manufacturing industry where obsolescence isn’t planned – housing. The vintage version is more environmentally sustainable than what we have today. My question is – could planning for repair rather than replacement be brought back into being?

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