Innovation, Steve Johnson’s perspective

Entrepreneur and author Steve Johnson has a piece in today’s Sunday NY Times on innovation here. His point is that a whole lot of what most of us would consider the core of technology innovation doesn’t come from corporate R&D (writ large) but rather from a combination of academic, government-sponsored and even amateur sectors–a investment area he calls “the fourth quadrant”.

That’s true, but regardless, there’s a lot of chaff to separate from the wheat!

I think the core question is not where the innovation is coming from, but rather how to identify true paradigm-breaking discovery from the same old same old. It’s not entirely obvious to me. There was an obscure predecessor to the Web called gopher that, in the infancy of the Internet, had many of the features of the Web, but with more of a hierarchical text focus. It sure seemed innovative at the time. But of course, most of AS’s loyal readers wont have heard about it. Somehow, it was innovative, but not innovative enough.

By the same token, the early Web browsers (e.g. Mosaic) were incredibly clunky. But the seed for a paradigm shift was there in Mosaic 1.0 and, in the end, it wasn’t in gopher.