Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Tyranny of Experts

One of this month's books is The Innovators Dilemma, a book about disruptive innovation and how listening to your customers doesn't necessarily work, and incremental product improvements are just a slow march toward obsolescence.

I read it because it is an oft-cited classic in the "new economy"--the world of the internet, smartphones and robot butlers--and I certainly don't want to be left behind; but it left me unsatisfied.

This morning I read Jill Lepore's New Yorker article on innovation, which essentially repudiates much of the story the author used to make his case. I also read Scott Adams report from Silicon Valley about how the new term in Startupland is "pivot," where you just keep trying new stuff until you find something that works.

I'm reminded of that famous statement by William Goldman about the movie business: "Nobody knows anything," and of Nassim Taleb's maxim that you should not place your trust in literature that has not been validated by history. Hamlet, sure. Avatar? We'll see.

Those books that explain how stuff works are seductive. But predictions are hard, especially about the future.

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