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.
“Science, invention and innovation are related but distinctly different things. Science requires increasingly bigger budgets. An investment in science may produce an invention. But if it doesn’t solve a problem, it won’t become an innovation that changes the world. Inventions created with direct user insights have a better chance of becoming marketable innovations.”–Barry Jaruzelski, co-author of the Booz & Co. Global Innovation 1000 Study, which tracks the public companies with the highest R&D spending.
Bell Labs was possible at a particular moment in time. They had a monopoly on the telephone business, which allowed the company to fund this lab to create things that sometimes took many, many years. Companies can’t afford to do that anymore. The competition to get ideas to market is too fierce. Google can afford to do it. And they have done some projects. Universities and governments do it. The risk level is too high for public companies.–Jon Gertner, author, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
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.
The hallmark of invention is a new creation, a radical departure that creates a new platform that enables new things that were previously not possible.–Randy Komisar, partner at Silicon Valley VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byersn
The Maker Movement
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.
The Maker Movement is all about invention. The open-source environment encourages invention. Students come to MIT with maker portfolios. They can create prototypes of their ideas. They can do the work without much money or anyone’s approval. You can feel their sense of passion for problem solving. These ideas may have always been there, but now they have outlets. I see a generation that is passionate and altruistic.–Joshua Schuler