Now We
September 5, 2003 5:44 PM   Subscribe

"I think the word they are replacing is 'invention.' Only now we innovate, which is deliberately vague but seems to stop somewhere short of invention. Innovators have wiggle room. They can steal ideas, for example, and pawn them off as their own. That's the intersection of innovation and sharp business. " Cringley puts his finger on a crucial difference, touching not only on the core of ethics but on the connection to real progress.
posted by weston (9 comments total)
Good discussion on this over at slashdot, too.
posted by weston at 5:54 PM on September 5, 2003

I like this phrase to describe pundits: "They reinvent the obvious." I understand that there has been a shift in what is allowed to progress in business circles. And I understand that there has been a freeze-out on what the mai nstream ("monied") business community considers to be liabilities that could walk away or not produce at any second (the people we used to call inventors).

But my problem with Cringely's critique is that ethics problems are not reducible to problems of language, semantic shift, or plain etymology.

Normally I like most of what Cringely gives us -- but I wouldn't rely on this article for one simple reason: he's painting the word "innovator" as being bad, and anything labelled with innovator is thereby bad. I don't think I have to point out why this is bad reasoning, and bad practice to accept.
posted by Hilarion at 6:00 PM on September 5, 2003

I like this phrase to describe pundits: "They reinvent the obvious."

Or do the accurately articulate something anew? Put differently, I read once on an MLA pamphlet: everything worth saying has been said. But nobody listens, so you have to come up with better ways of saying it.

Most essays I've found insightful (with some rare but beautiful exceptions I'm grateful for) don't so much break new ground as they do illuminate a problem with better language and intersection of concepts.

I've long had a malaise about the word innovation, and this article hit it spot on. That doesn't mean I think that there isn't "real" innovation -- there is. But it's a red flag right now, because it's used as part of a code spoken by bandits who are waiting to "leverage" all kinds of things.

This is Cringley's question to businessmen everywhere: are you a real creator, synthesizing something of genuine real value out of other elements, or are you a pickpocket, simply adept at swiping what others have built and worked for from their hands? It's not a new question at all, but it's relevant, and always will be.

And the connection with progress is interesting too, weston. What happens to us when our culture tells us that becoming pickpockets is honorable work, and enough of us march to the beat of that drum rather than the one that urges real creation?
posted by namespan at 6:21 PM on September 5, 2003

Another funny offshoot is the lauding of the word 'invent' (and little more) by Carly Fiorina's merketing department at HP. All the while putting the knife in the back of all in-house technology like the Alpha processor or HP-UX in favour of Intel's and Microsoft's innovations.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:10 PM on September 5, 2003

Better call the Mothers of Invention....
posted by Eekacat at 7:47 PM on September 5, 2003

Good discussion on this over at slashdot, too.

so go post there

cringley is an uncredentialed blowhard and this is very very tepid antimicrosoft blather
posted by kjh at 9:58 PM on September 5, 2003

Thanks for the informative contribution, kdj.

/avoids comment about a Microsoft apologizer not knowing about the <shift> key.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:10 PM on September 5, 2003

ms sux0rs
posted by shadow45 at 5:45 AM on September 6, 2003

This article isn't about Microsoft, even though they're mentioned specifically as an egregious offender when it comes to the use of the term innovation and being an astounding match for the concept. This is about business in general. You know the list of sayings: business is war, it isn't personal, it's business, etc. Whatever happened to simply trying to provide something of value, rather than taking something of value away from someone else?

There's an entire class of paper pirates operating out there in our society. Part of the problem is policy/political, but part of it is social/cultural. Cringley's article, like namespan says, doesn't point out anything new. It's just a social conscience speaking up again, and I thought he said it rather well.
posted by weston at 5:01 PM on September 6, 2003

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