Innovation: More than New

Innovation has traditionally been characterized by its ‘new-ness.’  However, when innovation becomes characterized solely by novelty, a great deal ends up lost in translation.  By focusing on the fact that innovation must involve something new, society creates a structure in which the fact of whether or not the innovation is actually better is undervalued.

As Robin Hanson, Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University, wrote in his piece entitled “New is Not Better”, U.S. culture could promote innovation by giving more “status” to the creators and early adopters of developments only after it is clear which ones are actually better, rather than giving more status to those who design and use creations that are simply new.  This could spur innovation by increasing the value-added reward found in creating something that is not just new, but also improved.

For example, in the field of medicine, metal-on-metal hips were seen as an innovative advance over previous designs that used both metal and plastic, but it was later found that they resulted in the shedding of dangerous metallic debris through wear over time.  In fact, according to Dr. Kevin J. Bozic, an orthopedic surgeon and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, “The vast majority of the ‘innovations’ on which we have spent money with respect to orthopedics over the past two decades have not resulted in improved patient outcomes.”

By defining innovation as a new idea, method, or device that is better, our culture would incentivize creations that are more valuable and useful, rather than simply different or new.

Posted by:  Erica Pincus

Sources:  The New York Times,

Photo Credit:  Innovation by flickr user Seth1492


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