Accepting innovation

The reactions to technical innovation typically undergo the following nine stages:

  • Stage 1: “What is it good for? It’s worked without it before.” – “What the hell is it good for?” (IBM-Engineer Robert Lloyd welcoming the microprocessor in 1968)
  • Stage 2: “Who would want that?” – “That’s an amazing invention”, said US-President Rutherford B. Hayes 1876 about the telephone, “but who would ever want to use one of them?” And studio manager Harry M. Warner asked around 1927: “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
  • Stage 3: “The only ones who want new things are dubious or privileged minorities.” – In the 1990s, it was said the Internet was used exclusively by white, above-average educated men between 18 and 45 and that there was no chance of reaching wider audiences.
  • Stage 4: “It’s a fad.” – “The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad”, Horace Rackham (Henry Ford’s lawyer) was advised by the chairman of his bank when wondering if he should invest in the Ford Motor Company.
  • Stage 5: “Denial of the impact.” – “Don’t be mistaken, (the machine gun) will not change anything,” the French chief of staff assured Parliament in 1920.
    • Stage 5a: “It’s just a toy!” – It is most likely just a nice toy without practical consequences: “a pretty mechanical toy”, as Lord Kitchener judged the first tanks around 1917.
    • Stage 5b: “No money to be made with it!” “(Airplanes) will be used in sport, but they are not to be thought of as commercial carriers”, predicted aviation pioneer Octave Chanute 1904.
    • Stage 5c: “It’s useless!” – “We hurry hard to construct a magnetic telegraph between Maine and Texas, but Maine and Texas may have nothing important to discuss,” suspected Henry David Thoreau in Walden in 1854.
  • Stage 6: “So in principle it is quite good, but not good enough.” – It is slow and cumbersome and will become ever slower: “Experts fear that the overload problem will reach a critical point within a few years, unless a solution is found first. Until then, the speed on the Internet will continue to decline noticeably,” Peter Glaser announced in the 1996 edition of Spiegel under the title “World Wide Wait”.
  • Stage 7: “Weaker people than me can’t handle it!” – The then 82 year old computer pioneer Joseph Weizenbaum declared in 2005: “Computers for children – that makes applesauce out of brains”.
  • Stage 8: “Creating an etiquette” – The etiquette issues that are now arising are connected with educating others to use the innovation properly. In the early days of letterpress printing, giving a printed book as a gift was regarded as indelicate; typed private letters had a taste of rudeness until the 1980s.
  • Stage 9: “If the new technique has to do with thinking, writing or reading, then it certainly changes those for the worse.” – The American Newspaper Publishers’ Association discussed the question in February 1897: “(Do typewriters) lower the literary grade of work done by reporters?”

In the rare cases in which the critic realizes that his accusations have already been made, he argues that this time, however, it is completely different and much worse. The US essayist Sven Birkerts wrote in 1994: “The difference between the early modern age and the present – drastically simplified – is that the body once had time to accept the transplanted new organ, while we now rush head over heels”. It currently seems to take about ten to fifteen years until an innovation has passed the foreseeable criticism. The SMS, which has existed since 1992, was 2009 only blamed for the decline of the language by extremely bad-tempered letter writers.

The more arduous therapy is called learning. Because low status gain intentions are not the main reason for the neophilia differences between the generations. Adult people simply know too many solutions to problems that no longer exist.

Based on Standardsituationen der Technologiekritik (Kathrin Passig)


Why are smart engineers typically hard to find in executive management?

Why are smart engineers not becoming top managers? Think of the following example: If the smartest engineer became boss of a rocket project, who would be designing the rocket engine? Right, probably the second smartest engineer. Now when we talk about a rocket we mean hundreds of tons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen in a big tin can. This alone is already scary, now the second best engineer designing any component of it sounds even more frightening… So the best engineer has to do the most important design jobs and because a rocket is big and complex also the second, third and 10000th smartest engineers are needed to design the other components. So only the dumbest is left for becoming the manager; or then you hire somebody who has not a clue about rockets, like someone from business school (Arghh). You see the problem evolving here…

Managers tend to have a big ego. I heard once a CEO say that he doesn’t like to be the smartest in the room because it bores him. Well managers, let me tell you the other side of the story: For a smart engineer it is easier to try to convince a smarter engineer of a solution than a dumb manager. Why? Because the smarter engineer will get the point and is ready to learn, or will prove the smart engineer wrong. The dumb manager would only make a random decision not understanding the problem at hand nor the implications of his decision.