Monday, November 16, 2009

Not On The Spectrum

When people who haven't heard of libertarianism are told what it's about, they usually ask where it fits on the political spectrum- is it on the left or on the right? The truth is that it's really hard to place libertarianism on the political spectrum that most people know- running from totalitarian communism on the far left, to totalitarian fascism on the far right. It doesn't fit on the spectrum. Similarly, atheism doesn't fit anywhere on the spectrum of the world's religions and the ideas of Chris Guillebeau and Tim Ferriss don't fit on the spectrum for people who are convinced you must have a conventional job that takes up most of your time.

This pattern is something that I have noticed and I feel that it is an analogy for the most significant innovations. Henry Ford is quoted saying that "if I had asked the people what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse." The idea behind this quote is that people could only see an advancement as being an incremental improvement to what they could already see as the solution- a faster horse- very few people would have gone looking for a combination of mechanical moving parts that was a huge improvement over the horse. Back in 2005 an analyst predicted that by 2010 there would be a 1TB iPod- this prediction was based on the trend of increasing iPod storage capacities and looking for the year when hard drive technology could enable this. It was still going to be basically the same iPod, but with dramatically increased storage capacity. Here we are heading into 2010 and the largest iPod is 160GB and the iPod as a stand-alone product is on the decline. Looking forward, this analyst could only see what was currently on the spectrum- the iPod was going to be essentially the same product, but the specs would be greatly improved. We know now that the most popular capacities are still between 8GB and 32GB and that the iPod is a much different device today- it's no longer about being able to cram as much media onto the device for playback, it's turned into a tiny computer with a full multi-touch screen in your pocket- to browse the internet, do email, make calls (if you view the iPhone as an extension of the iPod line) and do everything that all the different kinds of apps enable. The current iPod and iPhone aren't on the spectrum of five years ago.

It is essential to keep an open mind and to seek out these ideas that aren't on the current spectrum- the concept of the Beginner's Mind in Zen Bhuddism ties in to this concept excellently. These ideas are very rare but a new (logically sound) idea that doesn't fit on the conventional spectrum is one of the most powerful ideas- and these are where the biggest breakthrough innovations come from.

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