Innovation: Lessons from the Internet

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December 6, 2011; Source: New York Times | An article by Joichi Ito in the science section of the New York Times today referred to the Internet in discussing the notion of innovating by the seat of one’s pants. We think it is an interesting counter to the notion that social innovation is best promoted through the heavy capitalization of a few “high performers” rather than through the enabling of networks.

The article is well worth reading for the simple but profound lessons it imparts. Even the first paragraph is worth its weight: “The Internet isn’t really a technology. It’s a belief system, a philosophy about the effectiveness of decentralized, bottom-up innovation. And it’s a philosophy that has begun to change how we think about creativity itself.”

Later in the article he talks about the Internet’s early standards, saying they were “uncomplicated, consensual—were stewarded by small organizations that resisted permission or authority. And they won: The Internet Protocol on which every connected device relies was a triumph of distributed innovation over centralized expertise.” He says that this has resulted in driving the costs of innovation down and the locus of innovation to the edges where it is less able to be controlled. Joichi also quotes David Clark, one of the Internet’s chief architects, who coined the phrase “rough consensus and running code” to describe what is necessary to drive forward development on the web.

Ito concludes his article with this: “Neoteny, one of my favorite words, means the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood: idealism, experimentation and wonder. In this new world, not only must we behave more like children, we also must teach the next generation to retain those attributes that will allow them to be world-changing, innovative adults who will help us reinvent the future.“—Ruth McCambridge