I once posted an article about innovation in one of the communities I used to frequent, under the banner of “A Call to Arms”, to try and rally the spirit of innovation within that particular community. (As it happens, it appears to have dismally failed, but that’s another story)
Anyway, one of those who carries the torch reposted it in the community of a fledgling new forum software package, and was basically trying to see what the developers would make of the idea of encouraging innovation. I have to say, some of the comments were rather interesting.
As it happened, none of the actual developers commented, which was a shame – I’d have loved to see that, but I was surprised how little faith the forumites have in innovation, particularly when the new package itself seems to encourage the idea of innovation in principle, and hopefully in practice.
The general argument that was coming out was that ‘everything that can be done has already been done’, so ultimately everything is imitation. Others said that people should implement “what makes best sense” and not what’s simply innovative.
I never responded to the comments there, because it was clear I was dealing with people who would only be interested in recreating what had already been done. So let me respond here.
Firstly, while we may be surrounded by a world of imitation, and no shortage of things upon which to imitate, very rarely do we find the perfect model for imitation; very rarely do we find the exact combination of factors that suit our very needs to simply emulate. I even addressed it somewhere in my discussions on it, thus:
“Imitate it and innovate it with lots of cool features, it’s innovation, no? Sure, most things have been done before. So, take what’s been done and do something new with it. The potential for doing that, as opposed to just sticking with what’s been done already and doing it again, is infinite.”
So even if you imitate as a base, and build upon it, the chances are you’ll hit something innovative. As I mentioned, even something ordinary in one place will be a new idea somewhere else – because no-one thought to combine the two diverse elements before.
To the people who said that the ‘best practice’ is what should be implemented, the real question is “what is the best practice?” That is, in fact, a very slippery road, because what is one person’s best practice is the anti-thesis for another. I have engaged users in discussions over rival systems that approach the same basic concept from different directions – and for some one approach just works better than the other.
If anything, implementing the “best practice” is surely grounds for innovation, because if anyone ever did implement the “best practice”, there would be no reason to attempt to beat it, merely copy it. Yet I see new systems trying new ideas – suggests to me that no-one’s found a perfect “best practice”. In any case even if there were a perfect “best practice”, odds are it would not be entirely perfect; there would be some group of users who would find it flawed, unintuitive, or just hard to use.
Sure, sometimes innovation will not work best for everyone, but if everything were successful in the first instance, we would learn nothing from the failures along the way, the journey as a whole would be hollow and meaningless; we arrive at the best possible solution through trial and improvement, and innovation – because our very nature does not allow us to forego the attempt; our nature drives us to excel, to reach for the unattainable.
* It’s sort of a witty repartee, expressing frustration and indignation all in a single word. Much like “Pah!” Others might use “Tish-and-pish!” or “Poppycock!” I think you get the idea.