Are there any products or markets/industries where there is little to zero innovation taking place?

By Yonatan Gordon

My response to this question on Quora:

It is interesting that you note that cars are continually evolving. When speaking of innovation with regard to technology this seems correct, however I just saw an article that listed the 10 “most beautiful” cars ever made, and the latest Telsa Motors model didn’t appear there. Instead, at the top of the list was a Jaguar from 1961.

While this may not seem to answer your question, there are those products that never appear to change, then there are others, that despite or as a result of the change, consumers still seek out the classic versions from years back.

Innovation is a tricky thing. It could be that a painting was so innovative, that it took 50 years for people to appreciate it. But during those 50 years, was it the world that was innovating or the painting? Ostensibly the world wasn’t ready for it, but now that public perception has evolved, it evolved to include the paintings of this artist that wasn’t understood in his generation.

As explained in answer to a previous question (Social Experience Design: How do you design a social environment for breakthrough innovation?) there is this interplay between the innovations of the inventors, and the willingness of the world to receive these inventions. So too here, many of us learned in marketing class that WD-40 and Arm & Hammer baking soda did a good job of taking their one product, and marketing other uses . But what is not mentioned is that this also is innovating the product, although in a more subtle way.

How is this innovation? Because like the painting that wasn’t understood in its generation, sometimes it takes 50 years (more or less) for people to realize the true usefulness of a product. This is also seen in the natural world, where a great many cures, advances in technology, etc… comes from making use of products that have been around a lot longer than 50 years.

To abstract this conversation a little further. Even if you had a particular pencil since you were a child, maybe it was waiting all this time to help you write the mathematical equation that will make you known throughout the world? While the pencil always remained the same pencil, it later became the pencil that first wrote E=MC2, etc… a pencil that could then sell on the auction block for thousands.

What then is the difference between a consumer that buys the latest model car or a classic (setting aside the technical considerations of electric vs. gas, mileage, etc…)? The hope of the collector is that they will become the one to realize the potential of this classic. While many others have rode this model car before them, they are now living in a new generation, with new potentials and opportunities. So like the pencil which was waiting for that grand eureka moment, even though the world of cars itself is being innovated constantly, there are still these memorables which beg the question: was 1961 it or is there more?

Those who follow my answers know that I try to include some references to Kabbalah to help focus the discussion and bring it down to a practical application. What was just said relates to perhaps the most famous debate of creationism vs. evolution. Without going into the particulars (this response was adapted from a six-part seminar given on the topic by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh), the short answer is that evolutionary thinking is not mutually exclusive with creationism. In Kabbalah, the duality is between “wisdom” (chochmah) on the right–which favors the “flash of insight” or big bang approach to life, and the evolutionist or “understanding” (binah) on the left–which favors the developmental or evolutionary approach to life. The example that’s often given is that while the male seed is given once, the female takes nine months to given birth to this one seed. This also relates to an inventor who has that one flash of insight idea, then sends it to his product development team to “give birth” to it over the coming weeks and months.

Let’s now end with the inter-inclusion of these two, into the four possible approaches related to your question. Instead of wisdom and understanding, let’s call it Innovation vs. Classic for brevity.

Innovation within Innovation: Relates to the inventor who thinks that the idea itself can immediately illuminate the world, without needs to go through any developmental or evolutionary process to realize it.

Innovation within Classic: Here the classic or the more fixed nature of reality is dominant. Relates to the desire to create new versions of existing products.

Classic within Classic: The mentality which seeks to experience these products as they were initially given.

Classic within Innovation: Relates to our example of the painting, pencil, car, or natural world, which waits 50 or more years to become seen as innovative.

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