The myth of innovation

I spent a wonderful few hours with Bill Buxton last week and not long after read a great piece in Wired where Clive Thompson talked to Bill about his “long nose” theory. Bill has shamelessly borrowed from Chris Anderson’s Long Tail Theory and in doing so emphasizes his point – that most of what we see today as “new” or innovative often borrows or is based on ideas that have been around for many years.

Bill goes as far to say that research shows that almost any breakthrough invention we’ll see over the next year or so has already been in plain view for up to 20 years. He uses the pinch and zoom gesture of the iPhone as an example of something that we often think of as new but was actually first seen in 1983 in the work of Myron Krueger. Similarly the ideas that made Kinect possible didn’t happen overnight – it was the alchemy of many ideas converging and research for 10+ years in to areas like skeletal tracking, AI, vision processing etc. that made it possible.

Bill spoke at an internal Microsoft event last week and covered some similar ground to the Wired piece – noting that looking in other fields for successful concepts that can be transferred to another field is one proven methodology. He pointed to hand activated towel dispensers and automatic doors in grocery stores as examples of motion sensing technology and cheekily called them Kinect version 0.05 Smile

Check out Clive’s piece and next time you hear of an “innovation”, ask yourself…have I seen that somewhere before? Chances are, you have.