Thanks to @Mikaelcho for use of his images

What happened to innovation?

Shayan Mohanty
May 31, 2013 · 3 min read

Some new startups are doing some really cool things, but true “innovation” seems to have seriously gotten lost amidst technology management.

Technology Management? Wat?

Okay, tech management is a term I throw around to describe the same thing as what Joshua Ellis talks about in “Inspire Talk”:

We call ourselves innovators, but most of us are really just iterators – we look at the hot sexy app or service of the nanomoment and we try to put just enough of a spin on it that we can pass it off as our own. We call ourselves problem-solvers, but the evidence suggests the problems we want to solve are what are usually referred to as “First World” problems.

But technologists used to work on big problems. Not First World problems, but whole world problems – sending humans to the moon, ending poverty, ending disease. They didn’t do it because it was gonna get them a big badass IPO, or get them on the front page of VentureBeat, or get them fawned over at SxSW. Forgive me, but those are stupid reasons to do anything.

The way I see it, industries go through cycles of “true innovation” and “technology management” in bursts. Once innovation has reached the point of “We have all these individual technologies that no one can really use right now”, then technology management steps in to fling those pieces into a working consumer product and ship it out to market. But then these products start building on themselves, and it gets rather pointless. I literally can’t count the number of startups that think a “pain point” is having to call in to order some food, or walking to the street to actually hail a taxi. There are also startups that are creating APIs for APIs for APIs (solving a solution to a solution to a solution). These companies then turn around and raise multi million dollar rounds at some ridiculous valuation, and then promptly get acquired. For what? And why?

Here’s some food for thought (super old infographic but still very relevant):

Innovation from Bell Labs, the infographic.

And here’s the “innovation” process of today:

How do we solve first world problems that don’t yet exist?

If your solution is swag-worthy, revolves around a sexy topic, and is chock full of buzzwords, you’ve just increased your likelyhood of profitability. But thats the problem, everyone’s so focused on profitability that we CANNOT break out of technology management.

But it’s like Orson Welles said: it’s no trick to make money, if what you want to do is make money. Go be an investment banker. If you really want to get rich in tech with a minimum of effort, go start a porn site. Seriously. Low overhead, high revenue. Make porn. If money is your sole interest.

So… now what? I think it’s about time we started really innovating. We have a bunch of cool gadgets that say they’re “game changing”, but I really don’t think having a thinner iPhone or an app where I can order pizza at 3 in the morning is going to further the human race as a whole. We need to start thinking about the big questions, the ones that we consider “timeless”. I’m not saying we need to solve world hunger by tomorrow, but I think there is too much talent being wasted on inherently talentless products. Too much money is being thrown at solutions to problems that don’t exist, and that needs to change.

I. M. H. O.

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    Shayan Mohanty

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    I like technology and stuff.

    I. M. H. O.

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