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The Facebook initial public offering (IPO) mania is in the air as retail and institutional investors are clamouring up for a piece of the action. At the heart of this mania is innovation, which led to the creation of Facebook. Innovation has been written and talked about for years, but what does it really mean?
According to Wikipedia, innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments and society. The word innovation derives from the Latin word innovatus, which is the noun form of innovare “to renew or change”. The new refers not only to time, but also to the object/space dimension (new compared to what?) and the social dimension (new for whom?).
What is great about innovation is that it can be applied in everything we do but the deciding factor of whether something is innovative is the measurement of its impact.
From my point of view innovation has narrowed time and space. Another way of putting it is that anything that narrows time and/or space is part of innovation.
If we look at the innovation in transportation, people used to walk to places by foot which took a really long time and didn’t allow people to carry much more than the bare necessities. Then animals such as horses and camels were used, which cut down the travelling time and created space to carry more goods.
Then ships were created which used the momentum created by the waves and wind to travel from one continent to another, resulting in discovery of new places. This saved more travelling time and also enabled continents to be more connected.
Then cars were created, leading to aeroplanes and finally space ships.
The common thread in these creations is that it narrowed the time it took for getting from one place to another. The reality is that more transport innovations are going to come such as teleportation, which can take place in a fraction of a second.
Technology is another area where innovation has consumed the use of space and narrowing time in the process.
Technology has killed music retailing businesses in the US and is slowly doing the same around the world. By making songs available in digital format, it increased accessibility to many people.
Napster was a pioneer and a disrupter of the old models of the music industry, but it did not have a sustainable business model. Apple’s iPod and the iTunes platform became game changers in the music industry, using legal means coupled with a successful business model.
Amazon has changed the book industry first by saving space through their central warehousing of books and then shipping them to customers.
Second, they saved further space and compressed more time in getting a book to you in a digital format through the Kindle device but more aptly the Kindle Store, which works with many electronic devices.
There are many more examples of innovation in the technology space that can be cited but by far the one that has had the most impact has been the establishment of the internet as a platform that compressed the time factor in interaction between people and the space factor of creating the cloud storage of information.
What does this mean for South Africa? Innovation is needed in many different areas of our lives such as our politics, businesses and social structures, but most importantly in education.
Most education systems around the world are modelled around the Industrial Revolution mindset to prepare children for the Information Age. This means that there is an educational disconnect in terms of the outcomes we expect from the education system to the actual products of the system. We need to change the system in order to produce the outcome we need. The use of technology as a platform in the education system should be a non-negotiable feature of the system going forward because the real world has embraced this.
This allows the compression of time and, to a certain extent, space to occur for the young ones, which makes it possible to bring more experiential aspects of the world to them. This helps to prepare them for the challenges of the real world and minimise the educational disconnect.
Also, the content should be innovative by looking at how concepts can be put through in such a way that it is understandable and digestible within the framework of our cultural backgrounds. It is important to have programmes like “One Laptop Per Child” being introduced and supported by firms for progress to be made in education.