I remember sitting in a movie theater in 2004, popcorn in hand, watching the latest Will Smith blockbuster, I, Robot. In the movie, Will Smith plays Detective Spooner, a police officer in the future who has a deep-seated hatred for robots and all things new and innovative. At one point, he harangues a colleague on the evils of robots and how all robots will replace us in society and therefore, remove our humanity.
But this was a fictional movie. Obviously, those of us in the real world understand the true uses of innovation… right?
Disturbingly, I find more and more articles that actually support Detective Spooner’s point of view. For instance, Kevin Drum rings the doomsday bell loud and clear in the Washington Post. He speaks of throngs of unemployed workers, rising up in a revolution against their robot usurpers. The crux of his argument isn’t so much about robots or other physical technologies replacing humans, but rather artificial intelligence replacing humans. So, he is bypassing I, Robot and jumping straight to Terminator and The Matrix.
I get it: new technologies are scary. We don’t initially know how they’ll be assimilated into our lives. It makes sense that we would have certain fears associated with this. However, after decades of innovation, streamlining, and other such activities, you’d think everyone would realize that innovation has actually made our lives easier and has in fact created jobs.
In his book, Mass Flourishing; How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge and Change, Nobel Prize winner, Edmund Phelps gives numerous instances where innovation pushed industry and economies forward, creating new jobs and enabling self-expression and personal growth. This gives rise to the idea that entrepreneurship and job creation is directly tied to innovation.
With the advent of disruptive technologies like 3D printing, there were doomsayers speaking of entire manufacturing sectors going under because of the printers. However, what we’ve actually seen are tens of thousands of entrepreneurs in their garages creating innovative materials and products. We’ve seen jobs and business springing up left and right due to 3D printing. Yet, in my research, I haven’t found a single factory that was put out of business by the insidious technology.
Innovation isn’t just tied to the physical world, either. Software, systems, and internet technologies are all leading the charge in disrupting the status quo. When a new innovation comes along, old ways of doing business either evolve or are replaced – the key word being, replaced. The jobs don’t disappear; they shift and evolve into something different.
We recently heard the news that we all knew was coming: Blockbuster Home Video has shuttered. This is a perfect example of innovation disrupting an industry and creating an entirely new sector for jobs. With the last major movie rental store going out of business, the naysayers would have us think that there would be destitute blue shirt former employees sitting on street corners asking for our spare change. But what about the jobs that are being created in new and now growing sectors, such as video streaming, cloud based storage technologies, and workflow software?
So hug the Roomba that is cleaning up your living room floor. Go and cheer on the automated garbage truck that only requires one operator. These technologies are clearing out the old and ushering in the new. Companies like GE and Ford have been around for a century or more because they innovate. They see new technologies coming and they embrace them with open arms.
Entrepreneurs and employees alike could learn a thing or two from companies that are on the forefront of innovation. To innovate is to evolve. Failure to evolve is to become extinct.
Image credit: CC by Walmart Corporate