Innovation Patterns: What Makes a Technology Useful Today

Did you know that Ward Cunningham created the first wiki in 1995 ? Why is it that it took more than ten years before the wiki became recognized as an icon for all things 2.0? What makes a technology useful today, that went unrecognized yesterday ?

As I’ve considered these questions, I’ve come to recognize both near term drivers and long term patterns of innovation. Today, our values drive technology adoption. We value participation over exclusion. And the availability of technologies like the wiki make everyone’s participation possible at a reduced coordination cost. We demand a little less from a wiki than a traditional business application, in terms of rich function and features, but we value more the collaboration and participation that a wiki can provide.

Clay Shirky, in Institutions v. Collaboration, contrasts the effect of these near term drivers on patterns of innovation both within and outside institutions. Shirky explains why we value participation and how it shapes technology adoption today.

Over the longer term, there are recognizable patterns of innovation across industries and markets. Clayton Christensen, the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, provides insights into these patterns. In the Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution to the Healthcare Crisis, Christensen observes two patterns. First, a sustaining innovation pattern occurs in the market place when a market leader engages in either incremental investment or breakthroughs. Christensen describes a second pattern which he calls disruptive innovation that occurs when a new entrant undercuts the market leaders at lower cost while satisfying their needs, but with typically lower performance.

Today, wikis and many other 2.0 technologies indicate patterns of disruptive innovation. In parts of the software community where wikis were first developed, simplicity and collaboration became more highly valued than formal planning. Over the past few years the venture capital community has invested heavily in 2.0 technologies. Where do you see these innovation patterns fitting into your Agency?