your new idea is ruining everything!

Here is a bit from a superb interview with linguist Dennis Baron about the impact of new technologies on communication:

Historically, when the new communication device comes out, the reaction tends to be divided. Some people think it’s the best thing since sliced bread; other people fear it as the end of civilization as we know it. And most people take a wait and see attitude. And if it does something that they’re interested in, they pick up on it, if it doesn’t, they don’t buy into it.

I start with Plato’s critique of writing where he says that if we depend on writing, we will lose the ability to remember things. Our memory will become weak. And he also criticizes writing because the written text is not interactive in the way spoken communication is. He also says that written words are essentially shadows of the things they represent. They’re not the thing itself. Of course we remember all this because Plato wrote it down — the ultimate irony.

We hear a thousand objections of this sort throughout history: Thoreau objecting to the telegraph, because even though it speeds things up, people won’t have anything to say to one another. Then we have Samuel Morse, who invents the telegraph, objecting to the telephone because nothing important is ever going to be done over the telephone because there’s no way to preserve or record a phone conversation. There were complaints about typewriters making writing too mechanical, too distant — it disconnects the author from the words. That a pen and pencil connects you more directly with the page. And then with the computer, you have the whole range of “this is going to revolutionize everything” versus “this is going to destroy everything.”

1905 Strowger Dial Candle

The entire interview is worth reading (and I intend to read the book that he is promoting as well). Baron brings up several important points for innovators. The first is that there are always people that will fight new ideas. It doesn’t matter how small your innovation is, someone won’t like it. You have to be able to fight through these objections. The second is that the hype cycle will probably always be with us. When you’ve got a new idea to execute, hype is fine, but in the long run you need to deliver substantive value.

The big point though is that you always get this resistance because innovations are always disruptive. The disruption caused by blogs is obvious (at least it is now – newspapers weren’t so worried about them when they first started out). But even if you’ve just figured out a simple way to make an everyday process better, it is going to require change. Consequently, someone won’t like it. When this happens within our organisation, we need to figure out the politics of getting around the objection. When it happens within a market, we have to figure out how to compete against the resistance. But one way or another, no matter how good our ideas our, someone won’t like them. And we’ll have to fight to get our ideas to spread.

(image from

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