We are sitting here in NESTA’s office in the city of London surrounded by financial chaos, much of it arguably occasioned by unrestrained innovation. For a more qualified view than mine see Chander Velu’s article here. There is a new mantra of business nowadays, best summed up by the Economist: "Innovation is now recognised as the single most important ingredient in any modern economy".
The interesting question is can you have too much of a good thing? We will see where the new balance of regulation versus free markets ends up in financial services but in the meantime it is interesting to note the history of innovation itself from devil to darling to disaster.
I saw a presentation at the British Academy of Management conference recently which addressed this entitled ‘When did innovation become strategic?’ given by Ian Stewart of Birmingham City University . He charts the rehabilitation of innovation which, for 400 years, was seen as a form of deviance (for which you could be killed) through various subsequent stages. These include uncomfortable pragmatism, innovation as an organisational reflex and utlimately lead to the current state of innovation as strategic and fundamental to how organisations operate.
The moral of this story? Those that are working to promote innovation such as we at NESTA need to bear in mind that it wouldn’t take too much for us to be defending a discredited mantra rather than riding an unstoppable wave.