Does innovation have anything to do with commerce? Not any moreso than anything else. Innovative ideas are not necessarily commercially viable, and commercially viable ideas are rarely innovative; the space of commercially viable ideas is small, isolated, and nearly fully mined.

That said, I can’t agree at all with the idea that we live in a particularly innovative time. Most of the businesses that currently get marked as “innovative” are attempts to revive business plans that failed in 1999 (like Uber); the remainder are businesses that produce shoddy copies of the products of their technically superior competitors but make more money because they spend a bigger chunk of their budget on advertising to tell everyone how “innovative” they are than they spend on actual R&D (like Apple).

Genuine innovation cannot be easily productized, and as a result, it isn’t really compatible with consumerist capitalism. At the same time, it isn’t easy to mistake genuine innovation for the kind of imaginary pseudo-innovation that is produced by the con-men who dominate most industries. If you can’t tell the difference, you aren’t looking.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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