The Internet, the DNA and the philosophy of the Internet is all about freedom to connect, freedom to hack, and freedom to innovate. It’s really lowering the cost of distribution and innovation. What’s really important about that is that when you started thinking about how we used to innovate was we used to raise money and we would make plans. Well, it’s an interesting coincidence because the world is now so complex, so fast, so unpredictable, that you can’t. Your plans don’t really work that well. Every single major thing that’s happened, both good and bad, was probably unpredicted, and most of our plans failed.
Today, what you want is you want to have resilience and agility, and you want to be able to participate in, and interact with the disruptive things. Everybody loves the word ‘disruptive innovation.’ Well, how does, and where does disruptive innovation happen? It doesn’t happen in the big planned R&D labs; it happens on the edges of the network. Many important ideas, especially in the consumer Internet space, but more and more now in other things like hardware and biotech, you’re finding it happening around the edges.
What does it mean, innovation on the edges? If you sit there and you write a grant proposal, basically what you’re doing is you’re saying, okay, I’m going to build this, so give me money. By definition it’s incremental because first of all, you’ve got to be able to explain what it is you’re going to make, and you’ve got to say it in a way that’s dumbed-down enough that the person who’s giving you money can understand it. By definition, incremental research isn’t going to be very disruptive. Scholarship is somewhat incremental. The fact that if you have a peer review journal, it means five other people have to believe that what you’re doing is an interesting thing. Some of the most interesting innovations that happen, happen when the person doing it doesn’t even know what’s going on. True discovery, I think, happens in a very undirected way, when you figure it out as you go along.
Joi Ito is the Director of MIT Media Labs
Our Co-chairman John Hagel recently a post ‘What CIOS and CEO’s can learn from MIT media lab’