How Innovation Works and Why

The leading entrepreneurs of today’s world rely on innovation to build their careers and to justify the many years of hardships that are often the result of their efforts. Ultimately, entrepreneurs bring answers into the world that solve problems or build on prior innovations.

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” –Isaac Newton, 1676

Just look at our greatest technological advancements. Great breakthroughs typically don’t happen to a single lone genius.

Thomas Edison is synonymous with “the light bulb” and yet he didn’t invent the glass bulb or the glowing filament inside it. He merely improved two separate innovations developed decades before to the point that they became commercially practical in 1880.

Henry Ford released the Model T in 1908 and it was the first car to gain mass-market appeal at a time when many still travelled by horse. However, the car was powered by an internal combustion engine that was actually created by Karl Benz a quarter century earlier. And it took many other engineers whom subsequently improved on the design for better efficiency, comfort and performance.

Think about how Apple revolutionized personal music with the iPod. Apple’s innovation was merely the pulling together of different technologies that already existed.

History is full of stories of famous innovators who have built upon the achievements of those before them.

In order to be successful as an entrepreneur one must understand how innovation works and how to successfully harness it.

Matt Ridley is a leading author within America’s discussion on innovation. Ridley’s book titled “How Innovation Works: and Why it Flourishes in Freedom,” which he wrote to revive innovation within the United States, provides insight into successful innovation. Ridley believes that the cultural influence of U.S. corporations is slowing the potential for innovation, but he hopes to put great potential back into the hands of U.S. entrepreneurs. I’ve pulled a few of his points on entrepreneurial views to clarify exactly what innovation is and what it takes to create effective ideas.

  1. Uncertainty — Ridley believes that the one thing you’ll certainly have when in search for innovation is uncertainty. This uncertainty isn’t about not knowing what you want but about not knowing how to get it. The solutions our society seeks require us to “do” before we can define the specific things we need in the end.
  2. Discovery — According to author Ridley, entrepreneurs must learn new things and challenge what we accept as our realities. Discovery enables us to look for what isn’t obvious as we search for answers to complicated questions. We can also use discovery to ignite our passion for the goals we pursue, knowing that there’s more to uncover.
  3. Specialization — Innovation is infinite, so it’s similar to the business term specialization. Businesses that “specialize” are those that take a concept they’ve mastered and improve it. What’s central within the art of specialization is that something has already been mastered; the endless competition of global markets then pushes businesses to work toward even more mastery.

4. Trial and Error — Trial and error are thought to be ingredients within innovation because innovators have to prove what does or doesn’t work. Failing to test their ideas leads many companies to ignore what works for society. Ridley believes that trial and error, though forwarded with instinctive feelings at times, is the only way to confirm what society needs and how it can receive it.

Originally published on Tim Noonan’s website.