If anyone ever asks you why innovation is important, consider this:
|1750 B.C.||Oil Lamp||17.5 (lumen hours per BTU)|
|A.D. 1800||Tallow Candle||22.2|
|1883||Electric Light, Carbon Filament||762.0|
|1920||Electric Light, Tungsten Filament||3,463.7|
|1992||Compact Flourescent Bulb||20,111.1|
The data are from a paper by William Norhaus (you can get a pdf version of it here – it is paper CFDP 1078). As each new lighting technology has been introduced, the efficiency of lighting has increased dramatically. One interesting point is in his data though – when each new technology was introduced, the unit cost for the same amount of light tended to be higher than it was with the dominant technology of the time. That’s part of why it is often hard to get new ideas to spread, even when they are demonstrably better than what they’re replacing. It’s why Edison had to build power plants and dig up the streets to get people to use his Electric Light into widespread use.
The amount of time you had to work to pay for one kLH by 1992 was 1/100,000,000 of what it was in 1750 B.C.
This makes me consider a few questions:
- This is a great example of the cumulative impact of successive disruptive technologies – it can be enormous. So consider – are any changes like this coming in your industry? Probably so – so what can you do to prepare for these changes? Or to drive them?
- This gigantic drop in the price of lighting has made people in recent years significantly better off. If we are working on innovating, will our innovations have a similar impact? Wouldn’t you want them to? We should be working on things that make a real difference.
- That is why it is important to think about buildership. I’ve talked previously about innovation strategies that we can use to build long-term innovations – and again, wouldn’t you rather work on things that will make a difference?
Innovation can have huge impact on peoples’ lives. Innovating is powerful, and it comes with responsibility – and we should consider both aspects when we build our innovation strategies.