A lull in innovation, or a preoccupation

Larta (R) (1)

Lack of breathlessness. Boredom even. “Same old, same old.” These characterizations of the current environment for the offerings of technology seem to be commonplace. Writing in The Washington Post, for example, Hayley Tsukayama suggests that we may be in “an innovation lull.” Earnest surveys point to the big yawn of boredom from consumers, anxiety about privacy and security, and a scant regard for the continued recycling of last year’s shiny objects that made covers of magazines (drones and 3-D printers, for example).

Pundits covering innovation in technology, especially, want to see evidence of “new” in an endless parade of bright new inventions, things that will elicit the next “wow.” They often assert that anything short of a lineup of delights leading into the distant future is an indication of a standstill. (The expectation of and uncertainty of Apple’s next big game, or the recent stock carnage focused on Fitbit are two recent examples.)

This preoccupation with the “next big thing” leads often to hubris, hype and hectoring, often in that order. Entrepreneurs overhype the prospect for a nascent, conceptual-stage technology, relying on this media obsession. In doing so, they often push into a market that is neither ready nor accommodating.

Thus, hubris is born, followed closely by hype. The lack of such accommodation by the market, in turn, is seen as presenting the perfect opportunity for “disruption.” Pretty soon, you’re off to the races, cheered on by boosters in the bleachers. And the more successful you become at raising money from those boosters, and as you meet the hard real world of users and usage, your messianic vision overcomes reason, and you start hectoring.

In fact, the endless promise that first was generated by the madness of the dot com age has permeated into our consciousness. But we do need to take a step back, and recognize that regardless of how fast technologies are converging, innovation often (though not always) proceeds by increments, slowly seeping through existing practice or products. Simply driving toward newer cloud solutions and newer tools to manage security, and newer, faster 3-D devices, for example, does not lead to a corresponding change in entire marketplaces in anywhere near the time one might expect. Confusion over standards, the lack of uniformity, indeed the lack of order, all conspire to prevent these pretty new things from gaining ground.

CRISPR technology, for example, that enables us to correct for genetic errors, has been studied for a quarter of a century by microbiologists, but gained a dramatic footing through a series of developments in the lab, and then, in vivo.

In other words, it “seeped” into our consciousness over a longer period of time, and now is poised to revolutionize our ability to confer immunity against certain defects in plants. (There are, of course, ethical questions that will be debated and discussed for a while, especially in terms of human genetic manipulation.)

Similarly, with any number of innovations in medical science, for example, around the application of new materials for use as stents, or new delivery systems for drugs, developments that traveled a scrambled and non-linear way into practice in the field – these are the pools in which we at Larta, seek to dip our toes. We seek to bring small and often incremental developments to the fore when making connections for companies in our programs to industry executives, knowing that there is no final chapter for these technologies.

Indeed, the greatest check on hubris and hype is the molasses of human patience.