The Secret of Innovation

2 min read · Posted on: Jan 1, 2010 · Print this page

Why is the human body such a perfectly designed machine? I mean, it is such an incredibly complicated system consisting of million of cells, designed by a genetic code, each with a specific purpose. It is an incredibly complex feat of engineering if one were to design it from scratch.

Artistic representation of Cells

The answer is Evolution. Evolution is a continuous process of attaining perfection through small steps. The steps are some what like this

  • Lets start with a fairly evolved species
  • On a global scale creating life is cheap
  • Every generation is an minor experiment involving producing a unique combination of genetic attributes
  • The attributes might or might not help the offspring that only time will tell
  • The ones with beneficial attributes like intelligence, attractiveness thrives
  • One in a long period of time, a mutation i.e. significant change in attributes happen.
  • This mutant might or might not survive.
  • If it survives and multiplies, it might or might not supplant the earlier species.

This cycle continues over millions of years. This cycle has resulted in millions of diverse and interesting flora and fauna. The key to all this is, in fact, step 2. It is cheap to create something. Something different. The difference might be minor at first, but the cumulative effect of several minor changes is very significant.

This is how creativity works. This is how innovations work. There must be an environment to experiment and create without too much overhead. The time from conception (of an idea) to birth (i.e. implementation) must be short. This is the basic idea behind prototyping.

Taking this analogy to computer languages, most of the innovative applications are now first implemented in a dynamic language than a statically compiled language. The traditional statically typed languages require more overhead due to increased line count and lack of ready to use libraries. The time from concept to implement is longer. Dynamic languages permit the prototyping of more ideas at the cost of less optimal implementations.

This is why copying ideas and applying it to areas different from where it was intended often works. It is cheap to reproduce an idea. It might have been a result of thousand iterations. But the idea is already born now. The genetic code has been designed and it has been proven. The next step is to clone the idea and start tinkering with it in small ways. You might very well be innovating.

The real secret of innovation is in making prototyping, experimenting, iterating or whatever you call it, cheap.

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Arun Ravindran

Arun is the author of "Django Design Patterns and Best Practices". Works as a Product Manager at Google. Avid open source enthusiast. Keen on Python. Loves to help people learn technology. Find out more about Arun on the about page.

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