While I have long supported and championed the case for more entrepreneurship and innovation, I am becoming increasingly concerned at the direction in which some of it is going.
The point was brought home to me recently when I looked at a report on a ‘revolutionary’ vacuum cleaner that improved on previous models by taking the dust and rolling it into little balls. Is this clever, yes of course it is. Was it needed, I don’t think so.
The same is true of many new items coming onto the market. We probably do not need to have a telephone that takes over our lives. We certainly cannot differentiate between a 7million-pixel and an 8 million-pixel photograph and there isn’t a desperate need to tell the world that you are down the local pizza palace through a Facebook ‘selfie’!
And yet many of these items are the result of great innovative brains. What a pity that such thinking and brainpower cannot be put to much better use for the real benefit of people all around the world.
To me the real innovators are people like Trevor Baylis who created the clockwork radio. This was done in order to overcome the specific problem of getting health information to African villages where electricity didn’t exist.
The difference with people like Trevor is that they started with a social problem and then used their innovative powers to find a solution. Too many of today’s innovations fall back on slick marketing to convince people that they have a problem instead of starting with a problem. While this may give them a short-term financial gain, it will not necessarily have a long-term human benefit.
If I return to the original example of the vacuum cleaner, I can remember when vacuum cleaners never had bags other than the one on the side of the vacuum and where the dust inside was either carefully placed in a dustbin or put onto the compost heap to recycle. Then came the paper inner that made removing the dust simpler before we were convinced that we no longer needed a bag at all. Actually, what the marketing gurus were selling us was a vacuum with a big, hard plastic bag! This machine was more expensive but it saved a few pence on not buying paper inserts. Now we are told we need the dust rolled into little balls as we are not capable of emptying a vacuum efficiently like our parents and grandparents.
Forgive me if I begin to think we are rearranging the dust on the Titanic! Years of brainpower and money have gone into different ways of collecting dust from the floors of Western homes. Incidentally, in the Mediterranean where I now live people can achieve the same effect with a cheap duster mop and a mop and bucket! Surely the technology of the vacuum could have been adapted to tackle some problem more important and more applicable worldwide.
I remember that one line in Jurassic Park where Jeff Goldblum’s character says - “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”