Every era defines its heroes. Ours is currently fixated on the innovating entrepreneur, creating something new that everyone must have. This type breaks the mold, striking out alone, even leaving school to do so. He (and he is usually a he) is designated as brilliant, sometimes charismatic, sometimes argumentative, often solitary in his vision, though gathering a team to put his vision into practice. His skills are more technical than poetic, more digital than prosodic. Neither poetry, nor prose is, by definition, entrepreneurial.
It’s important to have such innovators, but they are not necessarily heroic and they are not good role models for the millions of people already in the labor market looking desperately for work in an era of job contraction. Nor are they a good role model for the thousands of high school and college graduates entering the labor market each year.
There are two problems with the innovator ideal. And the problems point us in different desirable directions – one toward preservation and one toward change.
The first problem is that mandating innovation and singing panegyrics to the innovators degrades those who convey us reliably forward by sustaining what we have. The virtues and skills most widely available to productive adults – workmanship, craftsmanship, communication, responsibility, competence, discipline, and civility– are demeaned when compared to the arcane skills of the entrepreneur who innovates. Most people are simply not innovators, nor should we want them to be. The millions of nurses, police officers, sanitation workers, assemblers, teachers, administrative assistants, doctors, air traffic controllers, electricians, accountants, and musicians are as essential to the sustainability and vibrancy of our society as the few innovators who have given us Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft.
Neither society as a whole nor individuals in it can live in a state of constant state of reinvention and change. Most of the time we need a world that is solid and reliable – food we can afford on shelves of markets, transportation that moves us about predictably, knowledge of where we’ve been (literally and metaphorically) and a road map to where we’re going. Our society and our culture need to be maintained at the same time they are continuously altered.
The second problem points, paradoxically, in the other direction, toward that of change. Exclusively lauding the innovator as social and economic hero denies the significance and world-changing capacities of collective enterprises and movements. Labor union membership is at historic low-point in the United States and, pace, the Occupy Wall Street movement, there have been no sustained and effective collective movements of social change for decades. The backdrop of the aggrandizement of innovators is the persistent culture of individualism in the United States, and this aggrandizement, in turn, exacerbates this hyper-individualist mantra. Social and political movements can also change worlds – in many ways and many directions. They can call attention to categories of individuals overlooked or disadvantaged. They can demand restructuring and rebuilding. They can push for expanded job opportunities and better working conditions. Of course, some social movements can auger change we may find objectionable. The point is that the prevailing innovation mantra points us toward individuals as our saviors rather than toward collective enterprises and collective transformation.
The world is constantly changing and each day we are called upon to do things a bit differently, to respond to new situations. In that sense, we all do innovate, or more accurately, improvise. But we are not all self-defined innovators. The reality is that there are few well-paid, secure, full-time jobs today and the call to innovate is a call to invent and achieve your own job. Such a call is neither fair for all nor adequate to the task. Innovation cannot be the only solution to our economic dilemmas. If we were less enthralled with innovation and innovators as the key to solving our national economic dilemmas, we might be able to focus on the critical work of sustaining and strengthening our economic infrastructure, our cultural fabric, and our civil society.
The work of civilization has been long and hard and it takes great effort, individual and collective to remember, carry on, and renew. This effort is also heroic and essential and should be reinvigorated.
22 thoughts on “Innovation Overload”
I think the fixation on the entrepreneur is not limited to the US, but can be found elsewhere in places like China. Earlier this year the new Premier Li Keqiang suggested that Chinese should start their own businesses to address the mounting unemployment problems. Yet as Chinese read Steve Jobs’ autobiography and hail the Chinese clone xiaomi, I struggle to find two things that I think make innovation in the United States more full-bodied and rewarding for individuals who seek it out. One, my sense is that often times people aren’t trying to move away from workmanship, discipline, civility, etc. but rather they seek it out because they don’t find these opportunities in their more traditional work settings; traditional jobs are being hallowed out. People are seeking out opportunities where they can take pride in their work again or for the first time. Two, is that it is quite often not about the individual but about building community, an emphasis on the local, and building bonds between the producer and the consumer; you again know who makes the products you buy or who grows the vegetables and vice versa. In some ways today’s innovation would have been “normal” in earlier eras.
Hailing the tech entrepreneur or innovator as hero may not be very productive, but at the same time lessons can learned from those that are seeking to be innovators.
“The walking stick serves the purpose of an advertisement that the bearer’s hands are employed otherwise than in useful effort, and it therefore has utility as an evidence of leisure.”
One might say that many of the products that this new innovator type creates share much in common with Veblen’s walking stick. In that their primary utility is to serve as “evidence of leisure”. I’m thinking now about the latest I-Phone thats most significant feature is that it comes in a gold color. One interesting thing I am thinking about is that one might reasonably assume that leisure time allows for in depth contemplation. But what strikes me is that these ‘evidence of leisure’ products and their grand innovator creators seem to discourage critical contemplation. In particular what is discouraged is a critical contemplation of the innovator mystique or the products he ostensibly creates.
We may know when we really contemplate it that Steve Jobs is not the all powerful being that we should be emulating, but there are social forces at work that do not encourage this kind of reflexive contemplation. And I would argue this innovator as god construct, as well as ‘his’ ostensible creations—which we use to help construct our modernist identities— are significant aspects of these forces. The forces that work to build, maintain, and perpetuate these innovator god mystiques are many, but we need not look at the usual suspects.
I remember when I helped teach a course on innovation at Parsons being struck by how much the class seemed to reinforce and perpetuate the individual innovator myth. For example, throughout the course of the semester I saw this kind of idealized form of Steve Jobs being constantly evoked. To the extent that it seemed to me that the people building ‘his’ innovations were papered over. Note how the word ‘his’ is intrinsically bound with the innovator. The word ‘his’ exemplifies ‘individualism’, ‘ownership’ and of course sexism. If we know that the innovator is more than the sum of these things we should probably stop treating these fantastic things as the products of an individual but rather as products of the collective. This sounds easy but it is not.
One reason for this is that such a treatment would reveal aspects of ourselves that we know very well are true but do not want to contemplate. For example, is it in my best interest to contemplate my
MacBook Air—which I am typing on at this moment—in terms of the innovator or in terms of the people who actually put it together? People that I can safely assume do not enjoy any of the work privileges I do when I work (social security, time and a half, minimum wage, worker safety laws etc.).
One irony here of course is that if I attempt to imagine one of these workers that built my computer in my minds eye, he or she appears inchoate and ghost-like, and then slips quickly away, whereas, the
opposite is true of Steve Jobs. Though I know he is an elaborately contrived cult figure, he appears to me as very real. He appears as solid. He appears as consistent. And he has agency. This kind of Steve Jobs visage appears to us as to personify the “modernist” par excellence. I mean modernist in Marshall Berman’s sense of the term:
“To be modern, I said, is to experience personal and social life as a maelstrom, to find one’s world and oneself in perpetual disintegration and renewal, trouble and anguish, ambiguity and contradiction: to be part of a universe in which all that is solid melts into air. To be a modernist is to make oneself somehow at home in the maelstrom, to
make its rhythms one’s own, to move within its currents in search of the forms of reality, of beauty, of freedom, of justice, that its fervid and perilous flow allows.” (All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, The Experience of Modernity, verso ninth edition Pages 345-346)
My point here is that the innovator hero is a social contrivance that encourages us not to contemplate the true collective nature of the products we consume. It is a contrivance that seems to us to masterfully, if not leisurely, negotiate the modern maelstrom that we clumsily exist in. So it makes sense that we would want to emulate this contrivance. If we cannot exist as ‘leisure beings’ we can try and provide evidence of it.
I agree with the article and the statement, “It is important to have such innovators, but they are not necessarily heroic and they are not good role models for the millions of people already in the labor market looking desperately for work in an era of job contraction”. People work hard all their life to be successful. Most Americans, and people all over the world, die trying to reach this height of success and wealth in his or her careers. Some of the most famous innovators in our society did not have to work very hard for what they have. Some of them did not even go to college. Therefore, if younger generations of Americans look up to these current innovators as role models, they might fall under the impression that success is not always about getting a higher college education or working hard. They just sit around and believe that success will simply come to them because in our current society, everyone wants to be an innovator so they can be rich, popular, and happy since happiness and wealth and power is thought to go hand in hand. By sitting around, idolizing innovators, we forget that schooling, and skills need to be developed to achieve success and make our lives better. We can’t all be Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. By thinking of these innovators as heroes, we forget to appreciate the middle-class people, and all the handworkers whose skills are cooking, cleaning, constructing, singing, dancing, writing etc. We as Americans need to take a step back and realize that it is good to dream, but we need to realize how those dreams are, as well as appreciate what we already have. Some of us may get genius ideas and become the next innovator such as Steve Jobs, but the rest of us should seek an education, and keep aiming for success using our skills and intelligence, rather then sitting and making role models of the wrong people.
The education system teaches students about innovation in order to separate innovators from non innovators. I do not think the fascination with innovation is a problem. These heros help separate innovators from the group. It assist in sorting out who may become full-time stabilized workers. Praising people like Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey may actually make the working class work much harder. From this group an individual innovator may show. People whether an individual or in a group can, become the best them they can be. The fascination with innovation makes the world go around. Innovation creates jobs and money. Everyone wants to be the next glorified individual that makes his or her mark. The harder the group works the more likely a individual will rise among the group. The real problem would be if innovation did not exist. There would be no challenges. Robin Wagner-Pacifici stated ” Neither society as a whole nor individuals in it can live in a state of constant reinvention and change.” I believe that to be untrue. The idea of innovation forces society to reinvent and change on a day to day basis. Everyday people are forced to adapt to change. As an individual and group we must keep up with the time.
I agree that it is in fact a problem
that people are aspiring to be this new type of “innovator” like Steve Jobs or
Mark Zuckerberg. However, the first problem you point out is also a problem
that is associated with the celebrities in the media today. People nowadays are
not content with just having a normal career like: accountants, police
officers, nurses, and other necessary careers. Simply put the people today are
not satisfied with the normal jobs today, instead their desires and greed
pushes them to be innovators or singers for the fame and money. As for a
solution to this problem, I believe the only solution is that people will eventually
realize that not everyone can be an innovator, singer, or athlete.
Many times than not, the success of the Western civilization
has been attributed to its innovation and we frequently make comments like, “The developing countries won’t go far if they don’t embrace innovation.” Such one-sided remarks, I think, have contributed to the issues that Mr. Robin Wagner-Pacifici discusses here. The wonders and “coolness” of innovation swoops the younger generation off their grounded edification and creates more social
problems. In our fast-paced culture, being normal is equaled with being boring and our changing tech world is constantly coming up with an upgraded version after another. Being a mother, I can’t help but worry for my children’s future in our society’s constant thirst for change and individuality. It is a tremendous burden. Therefore, there needs to be a balance. Of course innovation should be promoted but at the same time, children should be encouraged (even more) to obtain a
grounded education. Public education system is not just about reading and writing, it also exposes the kids to other kids, culture, society, and creates that bonding instead of isolation. That bonding will create a stronger future for our society and ultimately, will determine our survival.
I believe that we are all innovators in our own right. Sure we need the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Steve Jobs of the world but we also need the Obamas and whoever is going to be president for the next ten years to carry on tradition and traditional purposes. In these respective roles they must be innovators as well. In our daily lives situations arise in which we must find new ways to navigate around the universe. Technology and economy are ever changing and there is now way to predict the climate of the world and how prepared we will be able to deal with it. Innovators are necessary and innovation comes in many forms, Thomas Jefferson, William Shakespeare, both innovators. I am an innovator, what I have created is not in it’s final form yet, I am still in the artistic stage of it. G.
I do agree the invovator idea that is toward changing and everybody can be a invovator . Today society is changing everyday , everybody should innovate something new for better life . It does not have to be overall , it can be individual at least it helps one’life become better .
describes very well an ideal of modern innovators. The ideal of innovator is an entrepreneur, usually male who is “designated as brilliant, sometimes charismatic, sometimes argumentative”. He knows how to use money, he is not a conservative who avoids everything new. He is ready to learn and ready to take risk. His is able to make his ideas a reality. He is competitive. From my point of view, competiveness is not necessarily a bad quality. The author of the article writes that “singing panegyrics to innovators degrades those who convey us reliably forward by sustaining what we have.” I don’t agree with this. I think innovators don’t degrade, but rather inspire individuals, get them sparked, make them work harder, let them have dreams. Sustaining what we have is great, of course, but without innovators and constant change they bring, the life would be dull. All people have their personal heroes they admire, look up to, but don’t necessarily
follow their path. Some choose celebrities, some choose teachers, some choose, let’s say, Mark Zuckerberg (just an example).
I would definitely argue with the statement “The virtues and skills most widely available to productive adults – workmanship, craftsmanship, communication, responsibility,competence, discipline, and civility– are demeaned when compared to the arcane skills of the entrepreneur who innovates.” No, they are not demeaned, just the entrepreneur may possess all those virtues and skills, but he also has intuition, creativity, and most importantly – originality.
I think innovators deserve much of praise and admiration, maybe even more than other “productive
adults”, because “millions of sanitation workers, nurses, assemblers, teachers etc.” are doing mostly mechanical jobs, jobs they were taught to do, jobs that
basically anybody else can do instead them if trained, but who else can invent something as Facebook? How many people may invent something as great as an iPhone? I bet, very, very few people can do that. Of course, there are hundreds of people who helped Mark Zuckerberg to make his ideas a reality, he is not alone, but all those people were inspired by HIS ideas, they were united by HIS ideas, so why not to admire him? Why not to make a role model from him?
By the way, we would not have the strongest economy in the world, if there were no innovations. Innovators invent new things, people spent money on them, the government taxes all sales and then pay salary to
state workers. Author states:” Innovation cannot be the only solution to our economic dilemmas.” It is true, but the innovation is one if not the most vitally
important part of the solution.
I agree people do generally look up to innovators like Steve
Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. They think that since they can do it, then why cantthey? In the 2nd paragraph she says “ In that sense we all do
innovate or more accurately improvise. But we are not all self -defined
innovators. The reality is that there are few well paid, secure, full time jobs today and the call to innovate is a call to invent and achieve your own jobs” I do understand that people want to be able to make names for themselves and I do agree that there are better things to do than to be a innovator. Making a name for yourself like Steve Jobs is highly unlikely for everyone to do because then it would be no normal jobs and then it would be no interest in actually being a innovator. People would not be interested if everybody were to be a innovator
because it would only stir competition. Innovators that seek to be admired are becoming to be the ideal individual and that should not be important. I agree with Robin Wagner on the fact that there is a innovator type and that type is the people that want to be recognized world wide and make this image of them
selves that everyone desires to be. The innovator type and the regular individual can come to a common ground. People should understand that being a innovator does not make your life. You can be somebody if you’re a everyday worker and still be recognized for the work that you do.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, by Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela was a famous person in the world, he was an icon, he was an innovator. I agree with the author, because the author mean that depend on a person to become innovator. Innovation depend on those people that wants something different in their lives, depend on how you compete with yourself to become better. A lot of people make the example of been an innovator, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and others, those people aren’t conformist, those people are innovators.The world have the problem of been conformist, and that is what we have to change, to become better. The key of grow up is education, the author said, that this system is just to compete. In Dominican Republic the country that I was born, is difficult to compete, because there is everybody that want to be better.
In this century, capitalism and free market economy has dominated the entire world system, which led to the emergence of globalization and it completely interlinked the global economic system. Growth and profit motives were the main objective of the entire system and very few people out of the system were the main recipient of the growth. As a result of it, our society has witnessed various social dilemmas such as gap between rich and poor, which was mainly due to their lack of social and moral ethics on the part of corporate world.
So far every civilization has its own new innovations and there is nothing to surprise our present innovators. What new innovations we might see in the next few decades to come will be another surprise for us as well? However, at this point of time, our civilization needs more innovators who will have a clearer sense of developing more social businesses.This will not only help us to achieve their limited personal gain but also to achieve boarder social needs of our time.
Such kind of business innovations with a clearer sense of social responsibility will not only help us to have ethical economic system on this world but also have more sustainable and connected social system as well. Therefore, in the next few decades, it will be our urgent need of our time to have more innovators with better and clearer sense of corporate social responsibility to protect our civilization from disintegration.
“Its important to have such innovators, but they are not necessarily heroic and they are not good role models for the millions of people already in the labor market looking desperately for work in an era of job contraction”
I will be honest about this quote. I agree with the fact that these innovators dont have to work hard as everyday people or look for work helping theyll get a job. Innovators to me arent that important unless they do something for the world. I dont look up to people like Oprah, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, etc. To me the most honorable, innovator that has worked hard to get where he was is Nelson Mandela. All these innovators do is make money everyday that they barely work hard for. Im agreeing with this quote because people everyday struggle with this economy making money to support themselves while these innovators make it, but spend it on unecessary stuff. To me these innovators arent good role models because what are they doing educational wise. Yes its important to have these innovstors for entertainment, but are they teaching as the values of life, education, and support.
People like Nelson Mandela is a true, most important innovator because he spent his entire life fighting and presenting what he was able to do not only for his people, but for the entire world. He had a goal, these other innovators made choices to be famous and make money. We as people arent innovators, but we work hard to support ourselves without looking up to these innovators for motivation.
“Nor are they good role models for the thousands of high
school and college graduates entering the labor market each year.”
I have to admit that this is a great view on innovators. I completely
agree with Dr. Wagner-Pacifici‘s opinion. High school and college students are easily influenced, especially when these innovators are in the same age group. A large amount of students work really hard to become successful and it is obvious there is an unfairness between the innovators and the individuals. All individuals are just so different, and for that very reason not everyone is capable of becoming an innovator. Some people accept the reality and are aware that innovating isn’t something they are capable of doing. Some people are easily influenced and believe they can become successful without getting into
the labor market, but getting involved with people in industries. So with that being said, the labor market is a part of the success of a regular individual. For someone who is an innovator who didn’t work hard on the level that these graduates did, with school, work, and having to spend and make money that wasn’t handed to them. I’m not stating that working hard is better, it’s just that it is better deserved when you gain the intelligence and learn the real meaning of being successful. Not everything should be handed to everyone. People have their significance in this world. Overall, I agree with the fact that innovators
are not good role models. There is really a huge gap in fairness between these innovators and the actual individual. It was a pleasure reading this article, thank you Dr. Robin Wagner-Pacifici.
In this article you write “It’s important to have such innovators, but they are not necessarily heroic and they are not good role models for the millions of people already in the labor market looking desperately for work in an era of job contraction. Nor are they a good role model for the thousands of high school and college graduates entering the labor market each year.” I don’t quite agree with this paragraph because I don’t think a lot of these innovators are bad role models. Many of these innovators do not exactly make people believe they can be innovators, but more like make them believe that they can do good in their life if they work at what it is they choose to do and put the effort into it. Some of these innovators actually tell stories of their hardships to motivate people.
The idea of an obsession for the individual innovator seen as a harm towards society is completely understandable but i believe it can also be a very positive moment. Because of innovators, today as a society we have gotten so far. Without people like Steve Jobs we wouldn’t have our great electronic devices that in one way or another makes our everyday tasks easier, as well as making information more accessible to our reach. I do agree that society is pushing everyone to be an innovator but that is only to be able to discover the actual talented innovators because ” most people are simply not innovator”. Our “nurses, police officers, sanitation workers, assemblers, teachers, administrative assistance, doctors…” are the base of society and these individuals also make our life easier, more productive, and reliable but just as not everyone is an innovator not everyone could be a doctor, nurse, police officers or many more. Some peoples talents is simply in creating a website or a famous electronics and society had a demand for it. Simply is always great to have a person who is capable of creating product for our world just to make like a little more easier and entertaining.
“Most people are simply not innovators, nor should we want them to be. The millions of nurses, police officers, sanitation workers, assemblers, teachers, administrative assistants, doctors, air traffic controllers, electricians, accountants, and musicians are as essential to the sustainability and vibrancy of our society as the few innovators who have given us Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft.”
I agree with this in a sense but on thing is bugging me about what you are saying. You’re account of innovators are all in regards to new electronics or more specifically computers but in fact, those other professions have innovators in their own fields. Simply because they do not garner as much public awe as these other types does not mean they do not create something new or awe worthy… So yes they are as essential and can be as innovative as any other group.
As for the second half of your piece, I could not agree more. I think a group effort is what is needed in society today but finding something to rally behind is the hard part. That is where individuals and such take the reigns of society in order to lead the masses. They are figureheads for a larger movement, ideally.
I agree his worried for innovation overlook.
Innovation is not always welcome to us because they are threated for our job.
However human unlikely animal has been evolved what they desired.
who can prevent man’s freedom.
I would like to say government should control the new technologies to be used for right way rather than conservative attitude toward new technologies.
For instance, compare to South Korea with the USA, First time when I visited DMV office I was shocked because many people still working at boring routine job while South Korea has already been replaced by computers.
I thought the way is very silly thing to do.
By the way now I have been think this is because probably USA government controlling to keep for unemployment.
Also the other fields in the USA is the best developed with new technologies ever.
It looks for me very impressive thing and to be thought efficient way for man.
From this aspects, I think should not prevent from emerging new technologies every moment but It should control by government for properly to be used for human being.
Well we live in a world of absolute innovation overload with clever entrepreneurs, inventors, and marketers from all over are coming up with so many innovative ideas. Innovation isn’t rocket science. It’s an obsession with understanding or creating what makes consumers happy, what delights them, which problems they face, and then creating something that delivers to those needs. Some people work all their life’s trying to come up with the next best idea. But I don’t agree that they are heroic . their is people who work hard all their life’s as doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. to help people and they are not classified as being heroic.
“The first problem is that mandating innovation and singing panegyrics to the innovators degrades those who convey us reliably forward by sustaining what we have” – Robin Wagner – Pacifici
This specific excerpt of Wagner’s article made me remember a great quote of from an innovator named Bruce Lee,
“All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability . The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.” – Bruce Lee
The admiration of innovators and innovations in all set forms, are never going to change. The worship of innovators is a pattern. Every time a new innovator shows up with a great idea, there will always be people to follow their beliefs. In addition, even though people may take their admiration of innovations and innovators to an extreme measure, I don’t believe they forget about the people in our societies with important roles who help propel us forward each and every day. I don’t believe innovators are in the top ten list for possible threats to society. I think there are more important things that we as a society need to worry about rather than someone who invented the latest phone. Yes, I know society would strongly disagree with me but it still doesn’t change. I think, people admire innovators because they give them a sense of hope and belief. Innovators help people set goals for themselves. It gives people a sense of competition. The all famous ” If he did it I can too.” This is what is outside of the pattern.
You cannot expect society to work as a group. We are incompatible as a race, we like individuality, we like feeling important. When you’re in a group you’re just a number in a list, when you’re an individual, an entrepreneur you’re an idol. If we don’t have idols, we don’t have motivation and without motivation we cannot progress. In this article, Robin Wagner-Pacifici points out problems he believes being an individual innovator creates, he claims that being an single innovator makes you feel as if you’re more important than other jobs such as being a paralegal or a nurse or even a janitor and says that without these jobs the world would not spin. That is true, but these people, the firefighters, the garbage men, they look up to these innovators for inspiration, they see them as high scores they want to reach. The second problem Wagner-Pacifici points out is that innovators have narcissistic tendencies, I say this because he claims that innovators will only work on projects they are biased over. The big picture is, there are 6 billion people in this planet, if someone thinks it, someone wants it, if it is demanded, it shall be supplied. Wagner-Pacifici uses social group examples like Occupy Wall Street as being failures, and that is exactly the point, groups cannot cooperate together well enough to achieve big goals. We need an individual to inspire society to think like he thinks, and create like he creates. Innovators are heroes, martyrs, idols, and they are the foundation for our generation’s future.
In my opinion, all people do not have to be innovators. i might say we have own our ability to be innovators but it is not really necessary for all of them. In our society, we can see innovators like a Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela or Mark Zuckerbergs. These innovators lead us. i believe being innovator depend on people who want to be something special or different. i absolutely agree with innovation is very important but i think we do not have to be innovators. We can just keep our position which we want. In our every day life, we are just looking for our new way which we need to live it. Being a innovator like them, it is bothering me. i feel like have to change something big completely.