MONEY TALKS

Innovation is all over the business press. It is the buzzword these days. It is even frequently the subject of this column. But in all our talk of innovation, it is easy to neglect the most important part of it. As it usually does when business tries to express itself, it sounds a little stupid. As if innovation itself is an innovation. Innovation is a long-standing tradition, dating well back into the late 1970s. Just kidding. Actually, it's even older consider the wheel and fire.
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 25, 2010

 

Innovation is all over the business press. It is the buzzword these days. It is even frequently the subject of this column. But in all our talk of innovation, it is easy to neglect the most important part of it.

As it usually does when business tries to express itself, it sounds a little stupid. As if innovation itself is an innovation. Innovation is a long-standing tradition, dating well back into the late 1970s. Just kidding. Actually, it's even older consider the wheel and fire.

And innovation has been an important part of business for quite some time. Some companies are known for innovation Procter and Gamble, and 3M, for instance. Even in Norwalk, innovation has made the Fishers (at one point) a household name, and dubbed our mascot the Truckers.

Innovation is also why one corner drug store survives and another doesn't. Why the Outsdoorsman is gone and Wal-Mart has arrived.

In the words of Emerson a century ago, "If a man can ... make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door."

But the (ahem) new innovation, or at least the new focus on it is a result of a major shift in human society. A tipping point has been reached.

None of the innovations causing the current upheaval are particularly new most have been around for a number of decades, but they are just coming together now. Finally, the combination of sub-oceanic fiber-optic cable, computers and Internet standards has turned much of how the world has done business on its head.

So, innovation is now called for in an entirely different degree. In his very popular book, "The Innovator's Dilemma", Clayton Christensen explains there are two different kinds of innovation: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining innovations are smaller, more incremental they are evolutionary. Disruptive innovations are big they are not necessarily better, but they change everything they are revolutionary.

Without revolutionary innovations, auto plants will continue closing and more Mom-and-Pop businesses will go out of business. With this kind of innovation, the next generation of Fishers and Ernsthausens can be born.

But the innovations needed are much broader than those of individual businesses, we need new innovations as a society as stated above, we've passed a tipping point.

Norwalk already has a start with its economic development activities, but much more and more that is broader is needed, because the change is so much bigger.

The degree of the change in the world has been demonstrated the last few weeks to me in church. Two different sermons in two different churches in two different denominations recently were about the need for revolutionary innovation in the church. And perhaps because the sermons were Methodist and Episcopalian, they had a certain take, but one I think bears remembering.

The Rev. Margaret D'Anieri at St. Paul's Episcopal said Sunday that she, and others, believe Christianity is entering one of its semi-millenial "garage sales." Like the Reformation or the conversion of Constantine, the world has changed enough that the church must adapt, or find itself irrelevant to people's lives.

But, she cautioned, revolution must be undertaken carefully. The Rev. Stephen Bauman, at Christ Church in New York, used the example of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Here was a revolutionary who was steeped in the traditions of the church. He did not abandon them; he embraced them. To my mind, his revolution was not so much about inventing something entirely new, as it was about fulfilling the unfinished promises of older traditions.

Good revolutions are not destructive, so much as they are, in some sense, conservative. As we move forward into the future, we need to do so by remembering and embracing the past.