Sunday, October 12, 2014

Success is the cure to innovation

If necessity is the mother of invention, then success is the cure to innovation.

Yeah, thats a weird bastardization of the proverb, but let me explain.

Success means you've won. You've accomplished your goals. Your invention satisfied all of the necessities. Done. Complete. Fin. 

In technology, this is never true. It's a lie. Something new will come along and knock you off the laurels you've been resting on. There are tons of examples of this everywhere.

I'm broadening terms a bit here, invention isn't exactly the same as innovation. Invention is a one time spark created by necessity. Innovation is doing something different, not just doing the same thing better. It's divergent. Different. If done right, as part of a culture or an attitude, it's infectious, and success is the cure.

An attitude built around innovation doesn't succeed. It doesn't "win." It doesn't cross the finish line, look around, shrug, and go back to watching TV. It doesn't stop.

I think that all really great people have a sort of innovation disease. It's not genius alone. What I believe sets many of them apart is that they were never satisfied. They didn't stop when by all reasonable accounts they achieved a goal. Some continued well in to old age, and even drove themselves insane trying to improve on their own masterworks. Something has disabled these people from being able to realize their successes, and stop.

Take a look around you. Literally everything you see could be improved upon. And why shouldn't it?

Do you write software? Make it work, make it right, make it fast, ship it, then analyze, and rethink everything. Expect that it is fatally flawed in some way, and do everything you can to find out how it isn't working for your users. Pretend someone else has done it better, how could they have improved on this? Challenge assumptions and constraints. Then, truly great works will follow.

There's a parallel in biology: The Red Queen hypothesis