Big Innovation is Non-Linear

Humans tend to think in terms of lines.  Point A to B to C.  Great innovation draws a new line.  This occurred to me when I was reading Seth Levine’s post on how startups grow and thought about this.  While it’s intuitively obvious that innovation jumps the track and builds a new track, I don’t think it’s exactly clear when it’s happening.  Of course, the best innovation is when you look in the rearview mirror and wonder why you didn’t think of it.  Post an innovation being successful we wonder why we never had it before.

For what we do in B2B Fin Tech an entrepreneur likely spent a lot of time in the industry that they are building for.  They know what the problem is.  Sometimes the answer they come up with is pretty obvious except it was just them that had the intestinal fortitude to take the idea and turn it into a company.  Other times it’s not, and they create something totally different that spins the industry in a new direction.

Lots of apples fell from trees.  Only Newton asked why and thought about it differently.  If you are going to innovate, take a step back.  Try to see a macro picture.  Maybe look at another discipline and see if something from it can be reapplied in a way that solves the problem.  When you go, hone in on one specific thing and do it really really well.

One of the great things about Chicago Booth where I studied for my MBA is that the entire underpinning philosophy is to be counter-intuitive.  They apply economic thinking to everything which is why microeconomics is the first class you take.  Most of the theories in the Chicago School of Economics are pretty simple when you look at them in the rearview mirror.  Stigler on regulatory capture.  Miller on corporate finance.  Becker on discrimination.  The toughest one for people to understand is Coase and it’s usually because they won’t let go of their confirmation bias.  Even though all those people have passed, their theories should have continued influence on policy and decision making.

In the last seven years, entrepreneurship has become the number one concentration at Booth.  Look for a lot of innovative companies to come out of there.  They already have had quite a few.


  • On innovation, and AI, have you heard of Google’s chess AI AlphaZero winning against 2016 champ Stockfish?
    Many economists think it’s inevitable that Google evolve into a big hedge fund, too. (I also think so).

    There’s been much less buzz about Google using it’s AI to build better AIs, but that’s likely to be more significant sooner:

    I’m now thinking of lots of near future AI “idiot savants” who are genius at their field. There will be lots of Centaur (man-machine) opportunities coming for a decade or 4. Including investing.