Some types of innovations are predictable –

Innovation Types

1. Imminent

Imminent innovations are easily intuited or already known solutions to problems that haven’t been built yet due to demand, logistical, scientific, or technological limits.

Example: inexpensive blood sample analyzer; this is an obvious solution to some known & understood issues in the health & insurance industries but hasn’t been fully developed yet.

2. Combination/Interim

Interim solutions are time-sensitive & use existing, known, understood technologies to solve existing, known, & understood problems.

Example: peer-to-peer driving services like uber will only be in demand until self-driving cars arent widely used, after which the product will need to become a sharing/rental service of the self-driving car rather than a transaction between a driver providing a service & the rider. Uber uses existing technologies (cars, peer-to-peer markets, apps) and is a combination of these technologies that is going to be useful for an interim period while we wait on the technology of reliable self-driving cars.

3. Multi-faceted

Innovation that solves multiple problems & alters the shape of the problem space so that new problems must be addressed.

Example: the innovation of news platforms that provide content multiplied by the social aspect of comments, which interim-solved the problem of news bias & had a part in revealing the problem of comment spam, trolls, and so on.

4. Insight-based

Consists of a new technology that may be a combination of existing technologies that reveals an insight; may also be multi-faceted innovation but has fewer unforeseen consequences than most multi-faceted innovation because it’s based on a realization of truth which empowers more intelligent solutions. Insightful solutions usually inspire other innovations in that industry.

Example: vote-based content platforms like Reddit don’t count votes that come from direct hits to a comment page, making it more difficult for people to ask their friends to vote up their comment. This technology is based on the insight: we should anticipate problems based on the incentive structures we create & build solutions for those problems into our product. This insight may have inspired other advancements in fraud-detection.

I’m using ‘insight’ to mean a link between concepts. the insight above links the concepts of signals (the votes for a comment), mimicking (falsification of the votes by mimicking the real thing), incentives (motivations of comment voter & the developers who build reddit & the people using reddit to find content), expectations (we expect people to act according to incentive structures most of the time), and patterns (the developer identifies a pattern in user behavior and uses it to solve the problem of faked comment votes.

5. Cross-disciplinary

Innovation that invalidates innovations in other disciplines.

Example: the internet invalidated certain aspects of legal frameworks because the legal framework didn’t evolve at the same rate as information & networking technology.

6. Abstract innovation

Consists of a new technology that can be applied to build a solution for any problem.

Example: machinery, data storage, networks, standardization, simplification, statistics, compartmentalization, collaboration, systems

Any of these innovation types can be disruptive but the higher types are likelier to disrupt an industry. Imminent & interim innovations can be intuited by analyzing what problems people have (like by gathering data on what people are complaining about on social media or otherwise identifying systems that have not been optimized) & using existing technologies to build intuitable solutions to those problems. The higher types of innovation require understanding of that industry or another industry whose patterns mimic the other enough to provide a useful framework of understanding. The final type of innovation requires understanding of what I call Abstract City – the network of abstract concepts.

Do you think it’s worth investing in an algorithm to programmatically identify the final type (abstract innovation)? Do you think we’re ready for the rate of change that automated abstract innovation could bring about?

Some of these innovation types qualify as discoveries, where there is an asymmetry between the truth & what we know, and others qualify as perspectives, where the truth is distorted because each perspective rewards its hosts’ incentives.

Ultimately I don’t think innovation is real in the sense of being time-independent; each innovation chips away at the perspectives distorting the underlying truth in the abstract network and is an interim step toward its revelation.