Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Obvious innovations aren't obvious

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the future. It's a natural consequence of both my jobs. A useful way to think about what might come next is to look at innovations we've already seen. While doing that lately, I've come to wonder what causes obvious innovations to become obvious.

Adding a second passenger door to a minivan, for example, is a completely obvious move to make--but it took years to come to market. Someone finally figured it out, however, and that moment of realization is what intrigues me.

Of course, I could be misreading these events entirely. To continue with the minivan door example, it's possible that every car manufacturer knew from the get-go that minivans should have passenger doors on both sides, but none of them wanted to go first and open that cost door (pun intended).

I don't think so, though. I believe that minivans had only one passenger door because the designers conceived of them as small vans--note the name--rather than large cars. As long as the vehicle was a truck, it didn't need the convenience of exiting on both rear sides. When the designers saw it as a family car, of course it needed that other door.

I don't expect to be able to turn this area of study into real innovations--if I could, I'd probably be wealthy--but I do think it's a worthwhile line of inquiry for writers and creators of all sorts, and so I will keep after it.

4 comments:

J. Griffin Barber said...

Yes, minivans. All hail the other side door!

Eric said...

If you haven't read Bellwether by Connie Willis, you should. Fits rather neatly with what you're talking about and a really good book.

Ticia said...

I think the same things about food. Who was the first brave soul to try an artichoke? Or, what level of desperation drove that starving person to try spoiled, lumpy milk and discover the joys of cheese?

I think it is an innate sense of curiosity that fuels most of our innovative discoveries.

Mark said...

Eric, thanks for the tip.

Ticia, I think hunger may also drive the food discoveries.

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