This past year people published millions of articles on the internet. Some were good, most were bad, and these ones were great. I’ve spent the last few weeks combing through the web and selecting the year’s best innovation articles. Some are straightforward, (Why Great Ideas Get Rejected) others are more nuanced (Beyond the Matrix), but all show the power of randomness and passion in today’s unpredictable world.
Marc Andreessen just might be the least famous revolutionary in modern history. Sure, he is an icon in the tech world, but for some reason within the general public he isn’t mentioned in the same breathe as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. In a revealing interview with Wired’s Chris Anderson, Andreessen discussed his unique and innovative worldview. It starts with a detailed discussion of his ability to reverse the industry’s common assumptions, and ends with an overview of what the future holds. Like all great intersectional thinkers, Andreessen knows he doesn’t hold the answer.
We all want to be innovative, but when an idea is truly innovative it makes us uncomfortable almost by definition. After all, something that changes the status quo must first defeat the status quo. David Burkus examines why we are biased against innovative ideas and how you can overcome the bias.
Aleksandar Hemon’s profile of the Wachowskis (the directors behind The Matrix and Cloud Atlas) folds nicely into Burkus’ conversation about the rejection of great ideas. The filmmakers don’t just make movies; they make the type of movies that change cinema—and often times the change isn’t easy. The profile covers the duo’s transition from carpentery to revolutionary filmmaking and examines how reversing your assumptions allows you to innovate within nearly any field.
What do sanitary napkins have to do with incinerators and public education? What about water tanks and building bricks? Nothing, unless you are Moses Kizza Musaazi, a Ugandan born inventor who has embraced purposeful bets and changed his homeland in the process. What is most intriguing about this Inc. profile is what it means to international development. Despite the promise of microfinance, the industry is still dominated by technocratic solutions. Musaazi’s firm, Technology for Tomorrow, shows that not only can anyone innovate, but that the best, most profitable solutions come locally.
Kia Motors had a problem. They built a successful brand around efficient and cheap vehicles, but found themselves increasingly competing in a market dominated by commodity pricing, rather than a differentiated product. How do you change a brand’s momentum? Reverse your assumptions and bring road racing technology to the discount market. From scratch.
Built in 1951, General Electric’s Appliance Park in Louisville, Kentucky, employed 23,000 workers at its peak. However, increased competition and new technology turned the park into a microcosm of American manufacturing. By 2008, the park employed just 1,863 workers, and both Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt were looking to sell the property. But something weird happened. This year, GE opened a new assembly line at the park—the first in 55 years. Why did they reverse conventional wisdom and “insource” manufacturing? Real simple: the Medici Effect.
What do you get when you intersect Farmville and other social games to language? A breakthrough in the way we learn language. Foer, the author of the greatMoonwalking with Einstein, was in a tough situation. He was traveling to Africa and needed to learn Lingala, a nearly extinct trade language that emerged in the Congo basin in the 19th century. The results were surprising and may lead to a revolution in online learning.
Our next top article isn’t an article, but a keynote by Dan Harmon—an innovator in the truest sense. His show Community was one of the funniest and most creative comedies on network television, but the innovation came at a cost. Harmon was unceremoniously fired from his own show, just three years after it aired. In this great keynote Harmon talks about why all great products and innovations happen not because of money, but because of a deep personal love for the idea, once again proving that passion, not profit, drives creativity. (While you’re at it, you may want to check out Michael Schein’s great post on Harmon’s storytelling technique.)
Since humans have been able to talk, immortality has been on our mind, and in 1988 a random discovery by a German marine-biology student unknowingly reignited the conversation. The student, Christian Sommer, found a small jellyfish that was, for all purposes, immortal. This great magazine piece looks at what innovations we can adopt from nature and the lone scientist who is attempting to do so.