Give Me a Second: I Have Innovation Overload

Posted by


It seems like everyone makes something innovative, hires innovative employees, and encourages innovation. It’s exhausting. I’m worn out. I’m tired of innovation. 


Some quick etymology on the word “innovative.” The Latin root of the word is nov-, which resides in other words—like “novel,” “renovate” or “supernova.” Do you have any idea what the root means?


The meaning of nov- is “new.” *


In current vernacular, an innovation is a game changer. It’s something new. It’s something that reframes the way that people interact with the world. 


And right now, we have so many innovations we don’t even recognize what’s innovative about them anymore. This is so much the case that companies argue about innovation.


If you’ve read news in the past few weeks, odds are you’ve encountered news about the Apple vs. Samsung trial. The verdict: Samsung owes more than $1 billion to Apple for infringing on Apple patents. The results have spurred a tremendous amount of speculation regarding the meaning of the verdict. Bloomberg thinks the verdict will have little impact in the war for market supremacy. eWeek suggests that the verdict bodes well for the unique Windows phone OS. And so on.


The stories that I find most interesting are those about the complex basis of the lawsuit. A recent op-ed from the Los Angeles Times asks, “What is the proper balance between competition and copying?” Apple suing other companies for copying its designs is a head-scratching act to ponder, considering Steve Jobs was a notorious “tweaker,” or refiner of ideas.


The fact of the matter is that innovation is difficult to quantify, let alone control. Great ideas push others to incorporate and top those ideas. In the golden age of physics—captured well by Manjit Kumar in his book, Quantum—physicists like Einstein and Bohr belted out theories and discoveries in rapid succession. Or consider the Industrial Revolution. Even Henry Ford, the inventor of the assembly line and the usher of the industrial age in America, understood the nature of progress:

I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work. Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the greatest forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense.

The unveiling of an invention is an act of sharing. The world is fast to absorb and refine, in a process that has taken place for eons. (If you have some time, you might check out Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix series.)


I think what’s most impressive about the iPhone, like many Apple products, was the way it packaged technology for the world. Apple innovated by changing the way that people interacted with their mobile devices. But technology is adaptive, and competitors are taking note in simplifying technology to reach users. Google’s voice search one-upped Apple’s Siri in convincing fashion. Microsoft is changing its tune in its upcoming Windows 8. The game is afoot.


Okay, I noted that I’m tired of innovation, but I actually really like innovation. I am constantly amazed at the new ways in which people are capable of thinking. Perhaps it’s best to rephrase: it bothers me when people use the term “innovation” to halt innovation.


Meanwhile, some great inventors and tinkerers are working hard at this very moment. They’re working to change the world for the better, or to share their hard-fought inventions with the world. Business Insider, in a piece (oddly enough) sponsored by Samsung, details 30 innovations that you probably haven’t heard about. Things like oxygen foam, and a system that turns sewage into water vapor, or fabric that generates electricity from body heat. MIT’s Technology Review also released its list of the 50 most innovative companies of 2012 (with months to go). Many of the companies aren’t widely known.


To me, technological innovation is all about how technology can create better lives, a consideration that often comes secondary to profit. Progress for the sake of progress is dizzying, and makes us dream of unplugging. But there’s hope for a refocusing on the point of technology, right? The Gates Foundation is now challenging the world to reinvent the toilet. And September is the “Digital Makeover” 30 Days of GOOD over at GOOD Magazine. I’ll be following, and maybe I’ll get an idea. Will you?


What do you think? What is the most innovative item you own, and why? What’s the most influential project you’ve been a part of? Post your comments below.


* Note: “novel” is used as an adjective for “new,” as when someone comes up with “novel uses for a spoon” or “has novel ideas.” “Renovate,” a term often used in home repair—as in “renovate the bathroom,” or “renovate the bungalow”—means “to make new.” “Supernova” is a term used in astronomy when referring to massive explosions and implosions of stars. The term stems from when astronomers believed the bright spots in their telescopes were “new stars.” 


Image courtesy of Pixomar /



Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Alex S
    Alex S
    My wife and I recently purchased HTC 4G LTE phones.These are the most amazing things I have seen in cell phones. I have a computer, music library , book library navigation device and so many more things it would take too long to list. What an innovative world!
  • joe
    It feels cliche, but I can't think of a more innovative item than my Iphone - and all it enables. It encapsulates the Internet, email, social media, digital commerce, entertainment, news, and much more in one small device that I carry with me at all times. Note, this is not always a good thing! But, it is hard to remember a time that was not so long ago when any information you wanted wasn't directly at your fingertips. And, we are at the onset of another great wave of innovation. The California legislature just approved self-driving cars. How long before travel is transformed? When will smart houses become prevalent? Self-cleaning clothes? The ability to regrow teeth?

Jobs to Watch