Innovation in the tech world, much like storytelling in advertising, is the kind of word that has become almost meaningless through overuse. And if we delve into its etymology, it doesn’t necessarily carry the meaning we always think:
“Innovation is not a brand new word that’s popped up in the last ten years,” says Emad Tahtouh, Director of Applied Technology at Finch, “it’s actually been around since 1540.” What we consider to be ‘high tech’ obviously didn’t exist back then, yet now, when we hear the word innovation, we assume technology is involved. “Innovation doesn’t need microchips or computers; it simply means the application of science to a process.”
If you work in any creative industry or discipline, it is only a matter of time before somebody asks you where you come up with your ideas. Tahtouh finds a lot of inspiration in nature; “evolution is the greatest form of innovation,” he says. He also enjoys exploring the work of scientists and engineers across projects both big and small.
One engineer who impressed and inspired Tahtouh came up with a means of devising the perfect cookie recipe, to address a relatively small every-day issue. Tahtouh observed that in this case, as with many others, the YouTube comments and message boards can be a great source of inspiration, as criticisms (as long as they are genuinely constructive) often lead directly to improvements.
In fact, the most ludicrous suggestions are what innovation is all about. “Innovation is all about something that isn’t quite ready yet,” he says. “Testing it, breaking it, putting yourself out on the line, giving it to a community and then developing from that.”
“I didn’t know it couldn’t be done, so I did it.” This quote, attributed to Apple’s Brian Atkinson, comes with a rather nifty and well-known anecdote that Tahtouh shared with the audience. Atkinson and Steve Jobs liked what they saw in the graphic user interface at Xerox, and wanted to come up with their own. Atkinson created a version which actually surpassed the original, in that windows could overlap on screen. Apparently, Atkinson thought he could remember seeing this at Xerox, when in fact they’d never been able to master it.
Science fiction is another constant source of inspiration, says Tahtouh. Writers of science fiction aren’t bound by the constraints that are constantly placed on real-life engineers; they can devise whatever marvels they choose. As a result, the original Star Trek is actually credited with predicting a number of current tech trends, such as communicators (smartphones) and pads (iPads).
“The technology is there,” says Tahtouh, “it’s just waiting, and every day we’re getting closer and closer to being able to accomplish these things.”