≡ Menu

Masnick: Innovation Doesn’t Just Come From Big Ideas

Great post by Mike Masnick on Techdirt:

Innovation Doesn’t Just Come From Big Ideas

from the innovation-fallacy dept

There have been a number of stories lately from people complaining that US entrepreneurs aren’t innovating enough. A few months ago, we wrote about a reporter who came to Silicon Valley and complained about too many trivial startups. At the time, we noted that this is actually part of the process of innovation, and figured that maybe this was just a problem of someone “dropping in” on Silicon Valley without understanding the larger way in which innovation works.

However, I’m much more surprised to see Peter Thiel and Max Levchin, who have been around for a while and involved in a variety of Silicon Valley projects making nearly the same argument as a part of an upcoming book.

They maintain that we’re not solving hard problems anymore, and they lay the blame, indirectly, on the innovations that have gotten us to where we are. As Levchin says, it used to be that if the project you were working on was hard to do, you thought it was valuable. Now, it’s so easy to start a business or launch a company, that people have started thinking that if it’s hard to do, it’s not as smart as doing something much easier.

Both Levchin and Thiel remind us that you can take something that looks easy, make it hard, and change the world. As Thiel said, before Google, people thought search was solved, and uninteresting. Google, “reconceptualized it as a difficult problem,” and from that position won a near-monopoly on the space.

First, it seems a little ironic for Levchin to be making this argument, considering his last company, Slide, could be described in exactly the terms that he now condemns. But, more to the point, I think Levchin and Thiel confuse “difficult” with “innovative,” when that’s often not the case. Innovation comes from a variety of places, often unexpected. There are plenty of stories of people just “scratching an itch” and doing something simple… which later turns out to be massively innovative. But part of the process of innovation is that it’s unexpected, and one of the reasons why Silicon Valley tends to bring out really innovative companies over the long run is because of its ability to rapidly test out lots of different ideas — many of which seem silly upfront. Lots of those ideas “fail fast,” but the ones that can stick, can really stick.

If anything, Levchin and Thiel’s thesis seems like a nearly exact parallel of other elitist viewpoints in other industries, whining about how the internet made things “easier” for lowly amateurs to get into the game. It reads no different than the music snobs and movie snobs whining about how new tools have made it easier for “just anyone” to make music and movies. What they miss is that, yes, this creates lots of crappy music/movies/startups — but the bad ones go away quickly, and because of all that experimentation, some wonderful, and often extremely unexpected, things arise. Innovation is a long and always ongoing process. Judging the level of innovation based solely on the “difficulty” of the problem being attempted is like judging a movie based solely on the budget. It just doesn’t work that way.

{ 0 comments… add one }

To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.