Natural technology evolution vs. failed innovation

January 13, 2010

I loved David Rotman’s recent Technology Review article “Shoveling Water” on why the commercialization of microfluidics has been so slow. (I wrote about it here.) Later I realized it reminded me of an article I read earlier this year by Michael Mandel of Business Week on “The Failed Promise of Innovation in the US.”  Mandel claims that failed technological innovation has contributed to the slow economy and gives examples of “failures” in areas like MEMS (including microfluidics) and tissue engineering, where new technologies have faced hurdles to commercialization.

 

Everyone agrees that microfluidics has taken longer to commercialize than expected. Mandel’s article defines a problem (an innovation shortfall) but doesn’t propose any solutions, other than waiting for the technologies to mature. Rotman takes a different tack, explaining the slow pace of microfluidics commercialization using W. Brian Arthur’s theories of technology evolution. I wonder if Arthur’s ideas could be used to identify areas where the innovation process could be optimized, similar to the approach that Eric Ries has taken in creating the Lean Startup movement in software. Can we speed up the process of technology evolution?

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