The rise of the World Wide Web in the 1990s heralded an age of innovation, enabling us to make nearly every kind of interaction better, cheaper and faster.
Investors have been rewarded for funding big, game-changing ideas during this era. Yet many of these innovations have been relatively modest concepts. Being first has been key: Test your idea, fail early and pivot until you have arrived at something that captures the popular imagination.
That's no longer the case. With so much reward for low-risk ventures, fewer entities are drawn to risky investments into the unknown. But what are the subsets of creativity, and how much risk is involved in each today? We asked some of the leading idea people in business for their thoughts, to help us identify and define the various ways new products, technologies and commodities come into being.
Science is the riskiest investment. The federal government has long been a consistent source of funding for scientific research, but now Congress is scaling back. Corporations can't afford to make investments that may take years, if not decades, to pay off. So science funding has become the responsibility of nonprofits, universities and a handful of extremely rich companies.
Invention is only slightly less risky than science. Inventions can sit on shelves for years until someone figures out how to use them to solve a problem in a way that consumers will buy. While there are more corporations that spend money on invention than invest in science, it is carefully controlled spending.
Innovation is the game of choice for those who want to see a quick return on their investment. Tweaking an invention to produce yet another popular product can be done so quickly that we are now in an innovation loop that no longer relies on completely new inventions to produce ever more wealth for investors. It's a spinning wheel that no longer pauses.
Invention is the sand, and innovation is just moving that sand around. It is so easy to create and build new things now that there is no incentive to invent.
The glamour of innovation so outshines invention these days that inventor support groups have sprung up to champion these maligned but essential players. The Maker Movement--young inventors using inexpensive technology to make prototypes without the benefit of outside funding or the blessing of established authorities--is reinvigorating the reputation of invention.
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