This article is part of the series


The New Meaning of Innovation


Somewhere along the line I think we got confused about the true meaning of innovation. It’s supposed to solve real problems, create products that are useful and make our lives better. Most of the time it doesn’t really work that way. And the problem just seems to be getting worse.

Continue Reading Below

Friends and family know I’m into wine, so popping by the store and picking up a nice bottle of pinot noir for the Tobaks is a pretty safe bet around the holidays. Then again, there are those who just have to get creative and make things hard on themselves.

Instead of playing it safe, they go out and buy one of those high-tech corkscrews. You know, the kind that comes in a wooden box and you have to read the instructions to figure out how it works? I don’t know how many of those I have piled up in a closet somewhere. I use the waiter type that folds up like a pocketknife. It takes two seconds and costs about $7. I’ve opened thousands of bottles that way. Low tech and works great.

Ever buy a garlic crusher? You peel the garlic, put it in this little gadget, then squeeze really tight so it squirts out the little holes. Except half of it gets caught in the gismo and you’ve got to scrape it out. Sometimes it backfires and gets all over you. Want to know how chefs crush garlic? They place a clove on the cutting board then smash the flat part of a chef’s knife down on it with their fist. Voila, instant crushed garlic.

Look, I’m not saying we should go back to building houses with manual slot screwdrivers and handsaws. I can’t imagine life before Phillips heads, hex sockets, and cordless impact drivers and circular saws. Innovation is awesome, but once you solve the problem, it’s OK to quit innovating. Time to move on to the next problem.

Take those cool plastic shampoo bottles that sit upside down on their heads, for example. Ever drop one (like that never happens in the shower) and the tiny piece of plastic that fits inside the hole breaks off? You know what happens next? It leaks all over the place. But there was nothing wrong with the regular bottles in the first place.

And what about clothes? My Lucky jeans, Vans and t-shirts work fine. They keep me clothed. Why screw with that? What in the world can wearable technology do to improve on that? What problem is it solving? I don’t want what I wear to be smart. I want it to be comfortable and look cool.

While I do think smartwatches are going to be big, I won’t be buying one anytime soon. I have two watches: a Swiss Army watch for casual and a Patek Philippe for dress. They look great and tell time perfectly. Isn’t that what watches are supposed to do? How is it a problem that I don’t know how many calories I burned writing this article or that I wasn’t bothered by a text message because my watch can’t tap me on the wrist?

Look at what producing cheap food for the masses brought us: Hormone and antibiotic-laden meat from caged animals, enormous flavorless vegetables, high-fructose corn syrup, processed foods and fast-food restaurants. Funny how the food industry has to learn how they used to do things way back before all that innovation.

Sometimes we innovate to solve a minor problem and create a much bigger one. Environmentalists are famously hapless when it comes to unforeseen consequences. They banned DDT and now bed bugs are everywhere. “Save the trees” led to devastating wildfires. California replaced my passive septic system with an “environmentally friendly” one that uses more electricity than anything else. The irony.

I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to find out what affect the global hysteria over manmade climate change will end up having on our economy and who knows what else.

This may be a nit compared to everything else but I just want to say for the record that football was the greatest sport on Earth until all the reviews, replays and challenges made the sport so annoying it’s pretty much unwatchable without a DVR – which actually is a cool innovation in every sense of the word, by the way.

Imagine my horror to learn the Merriam-Webster definition of the word “innovation” is: “The introduction of something new; a new idea, device, or method; or the act or process of introducing a new idea, device, or method.” In other words, innovation is anything new whether it’s actually beneficial or not. I stand corrected. Fair enough.

Then it would seem that our society has simply gone innovation crazy. When it comes to innovation we’re like dogs that will eat ourselves to death because we lack the capacity to know when to stop. Well, here’s a novel idea. How about if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If there’s no problem, don’t solve it. And if there is a problem, don’t make it worse. Now that’s innovation.

What do you think?

Click the button below to comment on this article.