Extreme Innovation

John W Lewis's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, Feb 16, 2017

Innovation happens when people adopt a different approach to achieving their purpose. Typically, we move from one approach to another over time, with different people adopting each approach at different times, but generally in approximately the same sequence. But it does not always happen like that.

Sometimes people jump generations and/or get stuck on a previous generation. Innovation of this kind is extreme, in the sense that it is either very rapid, very slow, or even reversed.

For example, for playing recorded music, most of the world moved from vinyl records to cassette tapes (or, perhaps, 8-track) to CD to MP3 files (or another digital format). But some people missed out (i.e. jumped over) one or more of those generations of technology, many continue to use more than one technology, and some go back to previous generations (perhaps for the retro fun of it!).

One of the most extreme examples that I am aware of is transport in the jungle of South America, especially in Colombia. There are many villages that are considerable distances from each other and are difficult to reach. The primary means of transport is by air using Dakota DC3 aircraft. See, for example: Ancient DC-3s deliver hope in Colombia, and seat belts are optional 

When introduced, this was a very rapid transition for this transport role, they went straight from using mules to using aircraft. They jumped over roads and railways, there are none to these villages. But, on the other hand, they are now stuck. The old DC3 aircraft are well suited to the rough and relatively short airstrips in these jungle villages. But more modern light aircraft and larger jet aircraft do not operate well in these conditions. Most of their aircraft are now about 70 years old, and require a dedicated band of mechanics to maintain them, especially the piston engines. It's not clear how long this can continue or what they will do next. (My guess is either to get hold of some surplus C130 aircraft which might handle the conditions, or upgrade the airstrips, or both.)

This is a stark example of the two main types of extreme innovation. Firstly, rapid adoption which jumped over stages that other people had used; secondly, the retention of an approach which others have moved on from.

Let's discuss the nature and examples of "Extreme Innovation" during this innochat on Twitter on Thursday February 16th, starting at 12 noon Eastern time, in a free ranging discussion without any prepared questions.


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