The “no” in innovate

“First off,” the project designer tells us, “I’m always working in unstudied conditions. Every major project, I’ve got to make assumptions.” I counter: The challenge of project designers is to find out what are the better practices for starting off complex project designs. I mean the really-existing practices that have emerged and been modified over a run of different cases and shown to be more effective for design implementation.

“But how can a field or discipline grow if it doesn’t do something the first time…” This response is often stated as if it were established fact. Here too better practices are to be first searched for. Or where they aren’t found, then, yes, systemwide innovation should not be undertaken if it reduces options, increases task volatility, and diminishes maneuverability in real-time complex system operations.

“But, there always has to be someone who does something for the very first first-time, right?” The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate this, indeed, is the very first time. This is a planet of 7 plus billion, after all.

“But still,” our friends, the economists, press: “What about the pivotal role of innovation in the economy!” Well, yes, but so too are the infrastructures upon which the innovation economy depend. To treat innovation as more important than the infrastructures (without whose reliability there wouldn’t be most innovations) risks Mercator’s projection: It over-enlarges the already large.

So what’s wrong with innovation at its limits? Innovation evangelicals would have us believe that everything existing is already an anachronism. The form in the stone is out-of-date because there’s surely something better than stone. But why is it better to innovate as the next step ahead than improve the step just taken?

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