Why better can be different

I pondered about what innovation means to us practically and psychologically. And the implications for individuals stepping out into the world is huge. We have been trained by the education system to keep getting better along the same dimensions or at least along the pathways that are given to us. But that is the sort of incremental improvement that is not really innovation.

Innovative individuals probably won’t be efficient or “the best” by measures that are already established. But they can create and invent new ways, new measures to approach the same problem. We can improve along existing out outcomes we care about by working on different areas, using a system engineering approach. Or we can decide that we want to target a different outcome instead, having exhausted the gains in the dimensions we previously worked on.

Take fuel economy of a car for example; traditionally, the internal combustion engine have enjoyed incremental improvements through better design of combustion chamber, the way the torque is produced and the design of the axes etc. But when it comes to electric cars, the electric motors tend to be already quite efficient so fuel economy improvements are achieved through making the car body with lighter materials and reducing the weight of the batteries, improving the battery capacity and ability to hold charge, or to discharge more efficiently and so on.

On the other hand, road safety has been traditionally improved through encouraging safer driving, being stringent about what happens in the cars (no texting, putting on seatbelts), as well as road design, traffic signs, etc. Most of these gains are exhausted already. But we know it can be remarkably improved through widespread coordination of autonomous driving systems. The difficulty is for us to finetune the technology and get authorities to eventually allow the adoption.

But all of these points to the fact that being better involves being different. It can start with exploring the fringes of status quo and picking something that resonates with you to work on.


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