the dark side of innovation

How Innovation Both Solves Problems and Causes Problems

Innovation makes life better. Innovation makes life worse. How? Because it always comes with unintended and unexpected problems. To fix those problems? More innovation. Which brings more problems.

This nasty cycle is explored by Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson in their book Ingenious, which was reviewed by G. Pascal Zachary, a professor at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, in the spring 2020 issue of SSIR. I read the review. I don’t think I’ll get the book, as the reviewers tarred it as “at times disorganized and deeply frustrating.”

The dark side of innovation affects human experience on the global scale, but also at the organizational level. On the global scale, antibiotics – a terrific innovation, right? But their use, abuse, and overuse has led to the emergence of superbugs, very scary antibiotic-resistant menaces. From the book: “What appears to be different now is that the pace of new invention may be outstripping human capacity to respond and manage the balance of cost and benefit.” (Scary).

On the organizational, level, well, think about it. Maybe a nonprofit decides it has no future if it does not work harder at developing a donor base among Gen Xers and Millennials. But in the process it alienates the Silents and Boomers. Ouch.

The moral of this story: Innovate. You have to. But give much careful thought, and maybe research, to possible consequences.

love, joy, peace … Michael Michael is a freelance consultant to nonprofits, with an emphasis on research. Contact him for a free, one-hour consultation.

Vol. 1 No. 3

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