The problem is, we can’t usually tell in advance which ideas are good and which aren’t.
The New York Times has just published The 10th Annual Year in Ideas. As part of this, they asked Tyler Cowen to comment on the previous reviews. He noted this quote from the introduction to the piece:
The 2001 issue noted that, in its selection of items, ‘frivolous ideas are given the same prominence as weighty ones’; that is easiest to do when we still don’t know which are which.
The issue here for innovation is that we rarely know which is which. I’m tempted to say never.
One idea that he identifies as oversold was from 2005, which said that the $100 laptops would reduce poverty. They haven’t yet. On the other hand, will the impact of computers in the classroom be felt right away, or will we see the greatest impact in 10 years once the kids that have used them are starting their own businesses?
There are two important innovation lessons here:
- First, we don’t know in advance which ideas are the good ones. So we need a system in place for testing them quickly to help figure out which ideas really are frivolous.
- Second, innovations often take some time to really show their impact. You have to take this into account when you are trying to manage the innovation process.