MIT Tech Review: 10 Ways to Think about Innovation

Over lunch in the Dining Hall at Dominican, I read a few articles in MIT’s Technology Review. “10 Ways to Think about Innovation” by Jason Pontin really got me going! Pontin presents a top ten list for folks interested in innovating. For example:

(7) Real innovators delight in giving us what we want: solutions to our difficulties and expansive alternatives to our established ways. (8) They are, it is true, sometimes perplexed by our ignorance of our own needs. “You have to solve a problem that people actually have,” says Joshua Schachter, the founder of (now a division of Yahoo) and the popularizer of Internet “tags.” “But it’s not always a problem that they know they have, so that’s tricky.” There is, however, an escape from this conundrum. (9) Successful innovators do not depend on what economists call “network externalities” (where a system, like a fax machine, has little use to its first user, but becomes increasingly valuable as more people use it): “Ideally, the system should be useful for user number one,” says Schachter, our 2006 Innovator of the Year. Hence, innovators can divine needs by applying a utilitarian imperative: they ask, Would the innovation help someone now?

Good stuff. I’m reminded of bad database design, difficult to navigate Web sites and OPACs that break if you use the back button. Many folks probably just accept that and use the systems because they don’t know there are or could be better alternatives. Here’s to the innovators in libraryland that work for the user — user number one, even — and solve problems we didn’t even know we have.

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