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Innovation Birmingham Campus

Innovation; discerning ‘things’ from ‘thingies’

Innovation in all of its forms is important for many reasons; not least of which is its ability to delightfully surprise human beings. There are very real, extremely important and pressing challenges that innovation can, and should, solve but these challenges should also make us feel happier, surprised and delighted.

Innovation is often rooted in technology and the key impacts are usually reported financially but the success of many innovations grows from the positive, emotional impact it has on people’s everyday lives. Sometimes they can be seemingly frivolous – a new way to order pizza, shop or comically distort photographs. Often they will make it difficult to remember or imagine life before those innovations – with Google, Facebook, Airbnb and iPhones to name just a few. Sometimes, they will improve the quality of life at a level of human health for millions of people; evidence supported by a 2013 survey by The Atlantic which accredited corrective optical lenses as causing the single largest one-time IQ boost in human history.

When delving into the depths of innovation, there has been a recent distinction between the ‘Internet of Things’ and ‘Internet of Thingies’ – the former of which are the more societally and industrially important network sensors that will (hopefully) make our cities and factories smart. Those that might fall in the description of the latter include being able to have your fridge do your shopping for you and your home tell you when it’s reached a desired temperature. Connected optical lenses that sense and self-adjust to your eyesight would undoubtedly be considered ‘a thing’, but the evolution of technology has had a few ‘thingies’ amongst them. Take the World Wide Webs predecessor for example which, at the time, was often seen to rather geeky and a frivolous use of time.

It is tough to spot innovation; one man’s thing is another man’s thingy. When presented to different groups of people, an idea can seem frivolous to one but world-changing to another. For those of us involved with incubation, we should be wary of making judgements based on our own frames of reference. Incubation is as much about exposing an idea to the widest possible and diverse audience, as it is about mentoring and support.

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