After the Deadline

Two Resources on Innovation

Posted in Talking to myself by rsmudge on April 3, 2010

I’m a firm believer that the opportunity for innovation happens when suddenly the right pieces become available and someone puts them together.

If you consider AtD innovative, know that I didn’t invent anything crazy and new with After the Deadline. I applied simple algorithms to a lot of data and achieved good results. The availability of data, cheap CPU power, and a cultural readiness to accept a software feature that depends on a remote server made After the Deadline possible. I simply put the pieces together (and spent some sweat trying lots of simple algorithm/data combinations that didn’t work) and voilà, a proofreading system.

I’d like to share with you two resources that helped me appreciate the innovation process.

The first is the Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun. Scott talked to the Automattic crew during our October meetup and I really enjoyed the time we had with him. I read his book and found the historical examples relevant. It’s easy for us to think that innovation happens in a vacuüm with one lone hero pulling it all together at the magic moment. Innovation is a lot of iteration and only becomes a magical moment when enough iteration has happened that others notice.

The other resource is the Connections documentary series by James Burke. I’m on my third time watching. It’s an amazing journey through history. The series is from the 70s and has a lot of speculation about the future and where technology may take us. James Burke speculates about the threat computers present to privacy and how technology might connect us in a way that folks couldn’t even imagine then. The series discusses history in terms of problems and the inventions they led to that later led to other problems and inventions. For example, the Faith in Numbers episode charts a historical journey from the Jacquard Loom, to the United States census, and finally to computers programmed with punch cards.

The message in Scott’s book and Burke’s series are the same. If you look at them, you won’t think about innovation the same way again.

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