A recent article over on HBR.org on the 4 types of innovation and they problems they solve didn’t really discuss the types of innovation, but rather the modes. The author, who broke innovation down into the age-old 2*2 matrix, with domain definition on one axis and problem definition on the other, indicated that their was basic research — typically carried out by or with academia, breakthrough innovation — typically accomplished by skunk work projects, sustaining innovation — typically done by R&D labs, and disruptive innovation — that often comes out of VC-funded innovation labs.
As you can say, these are not really “types” but methods of innovation which can each lead to innovations that might be classified as basic, sustaining, breakthrough, or even disruptive innovations (so the names are quite confusing), and this leaves the question, what are the real types of innovation and how does innovation happen. (An academic might come up with a disruptive way to create new communications technology and the best-funded VC lab might, after years of research, just come up with a way to make a fabrication process more efficient, saving 20% of time and 10% of cost, and not discover a single revolution.)
So how is innovation accomplished? These days, it’s fundamentally accomplished in one of two ways — either using the tried and true method of good old fashioned human ingenuity or the new method of deep learning that can discover patterns, formulas, or correlations that humans can miss. But is this the kind of innovation we need? Or even want?
As per our last article where we asked if the end of the digital west was in sight, while these deep learning systems can, with enough data, make predictions that are much more accurate than the best human experts, the fact that they cannot explain their reasoning is very disturbing. Very disturbing indeed. Do we really want to trust them with a new drug formula that, while having the potential to save thousands, also has the potential to kill hundreds, with no knowledge of which individuals are at risk of instant death? the doctor hopes not!
While it’s okay to use these systems to identify the most likely directions of success, it’s not okay to use these systems to blindly choose those directions without independent verification and confirmation with rationale, deterministic explanations. In other words, while we should use every tool at our disposal, we should never replace human intelligence and ingenuity with dumb systems. Because, while there are two types of innovation in use these days, there’s only one real type of innovation — human innovation. the doctor hopes that we never forget it and return to the glory days where all innovation was human innovation.