Here’s a nice video on Charles Babbage and the Difference Engine:
It’s an example that I use in my classes to illustrate two big points. The first is that invention is not innovation. You don’t have an innovation until you have an idea that is ready to spread, and you can’t have that if you can’t execute your idea at least once.
The second is the fact that it is critical to consider how your new ideas embed themselves within the existing economy. A big part of Babbage’s problem was that manufacturing technology simply wasn’t capable of building his machines until many years later.
It really is possible to be too far ahead of your time. If you are, you can still be a genius like Babbage, but it’s a lot harder to be a successful innovator.
(thanks for profhacker for the original link to the video)