Aaron Brethorst

Round peg in a square hole, rabid generalist.

What Is Innovation?

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In some circles, it’s taken as a basic truth that certain companies have more innovativeness in their pinkies than other companies can muster among all of their 70,000 employees. I am firmly of the belief that this narrow perspective is flawed, at best.

In reality, all of the companies I linked to above-whether it’s Apple with the Mac or iPod, 37 Signals with Ruby on Rails, Nintendo with the DS and Wii, IBM with Eclipse and a bajillion other things, Red Hat, Sun, Novell, and Microsoft-are very innovative companies that have done a great deal to push the state of the art forward. The question of “what is innovation?” has been kicking around in my mind quite a bit this week due to a few factors.

First, an Engadget article published on Wednesday talks about how Apple’s big announcements for Leopard really aren’t anything new, but still offer up functionality I consider to be innovative in terms of ease of use, and real customer focus:

[A] decade before Spotlight shone in Tiger, utilities such as On Locaiton (sic) provided classic Mac OS lightning-fast index-based searches. And Konfabulator, now owned by Yahoo, inspired Dashboard.

Second, Scott Berkun, author of the Art of Project Management, has been blogging quite a bit lately on the topic, and soliciting the opinions of others on what innovation means to them. Scott also shares an amusing anecdote on the first numbered patent granted in the United States:

U.S. Patent #1 was granted to Senator John Ruggle of Maine…The invention? Comically enough, a reinvention of the wheel. Ruggle designed a new train wheel that yielded more traction and prevented sliding.

So, what do I think innovation really means? I’ll try to answer that tomorrow.

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