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The Greatest Innovations Of All Time.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on February 20, 2007

Doblin’s Larry Keeley is one of the most brilliant thinkers on innovation that we’ve got and you must read this piece he did for the Innovation & Design channel on what makes for truly breakthrough innovation. Yes, the internet is on the top 15 list of Biggest Breakthroughs—but so is money and limited liability. Genetic sequencing is on the list, but so is property and containerized shipping.

The real secret to Big Innovations is that they do not involve products—they involve platforms. Let me quote Larry:

“Yet when you stick smart people in a room and ask them to innovate, they will virtually always brainstorm new product ideas. We seem to be hardwired to focus on precisely the wrong place when it comes time to innovate.

Instead our focus should be on platforms: broad capabilities that have the potential to cut across industries, markets, and applications. Platforms often have some proprietary capability at the core, but not always. Indeed, it is common for platforms to integrate many otherwise ordinary ideas into a whole that is collectively remarkable—as is the case with most of the innovations on the list, and the reason they go beyond mere inventions.”

And guess which innovation is No. 1 on the list? Weapons. Naw. I like language.

Reader Comments

Mike Reardon

February 20, 2007 7:53 PM

Everyday people working on top of virtual platforms, into enhancing work process templates that are made possible by multi-multi-core processors, seem to be the next web productivity enhancement coming from a Second Life platform. I think you are totally correct that more real product and service platforms also using these multi-core processor platforms will be that next development into everyday work.


February 21, 2007 5:57 PM

I’d like to first say that, as an engineering manager focusing on innovation and new technology in a rapidly changing marketplace, I enjoy reading BW’s many articles relating to these subjects and at times find them helpful in my decision process.

The innovations listed are pretty much right on target (weapon pun). I agree with Bruce Nussbaum, language should be tops. Also, where’s the Wright brothers’ contribution to innovation? How global would we be without air travel?

Rita Gunther McGrath

February 23, 2007 4:12 PM

I would add a slightly different distinction - when people are asked to innovate, they almost always go straight to what we call the "usage" link in the chain of experiences that involves consumption. They just don't look at innovating around the customers' total experience by changing the way things are done in other areas - payments, service requests, storage, and so on. I love the list!

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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