Why is innovation so hard?
Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson ©. Source: Gocomics
Anyone who has tried to introduce a genuinely new idea knows how difficult it is. As recently as 1995 Newsweek printed an article that predicted internet-based commerce would be impractical. Why would anyone want to buy stuff over the web? People crave human interaction, and the internet can’t do that. Another famous examples of such skepticism was when the President of Western Union dismissed Alexander Graham Bell’s newfangled telephone as “practically worthless.” Today, it’s repeatedly said that “all the easy inventions have been discovered.”
But they only look easy in reverse. Once you’ve mastered a skill or a process, it seems simple. Piano players can’t imagine not being able to sit down at the keys and generate music. Folks raised on ice skates feel that skating backwards is as natural as walking forwards. In hindsight, it’s obvious that communism’s internal contradictions and systemic corruption would result in its collapse from within.
But that’s only in hindsight. The future is indeterminate. This is why it’s so important to diversify our investments. We don’t know where the next new idea will come from. It could be an industrial product; it could be technological; it could be a cure for cancer or the common cold. All we do know is that once it’s here, the concept will be “obvious” to those who understand it. To the rest of us, it will seem like magic.
Oscar Wilde wrote that reasonable people adapt themselves to the world; unreasonable ones persist in trying to adapt the world to themselves. Progress depends on unreasonable people. It’s not the critic who counts; it’s unreasonable, cranky, stubborn innovators who can take us to “unpathed waters and undreamed shores.”
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer