Monday, December 3, 2007

POTW: Racing down the hydrogen highway ...

In the wake of my fail fast/better post, Andy Hargadon checks in with our post of the week. Andy gets it: He has an innate ability to teach innovation (is it an art or science?), bring business people and scientists together, and pragmatically filter theory and propaganda. (BTW, if you haven't read his book, How Breakthroughs Happen, procure an early xmas gift.)

Andy takes a provocative look at the residue and roadkill of failed technologies, evidenced by the contemporary tough times of ethanol and hydrogen. Quick take:

What interests me is the question of what happens when good technologies go bad--when promising technologies are brought to market prematurely, with too many promises made and too few kept. It happens in countless start-ups, when emerging technologies turn out to need twice (or more) the development time than their business plans promised and in large organizations, when the demands of Wall Street made it too tempting to accelerate the next generation technology.

When the inevitable disappointment comes, the technology becomes a pariah--outcast and shunned. Unfortunately, the scientists and engineers who worked their tails off trying to deliver on the unrealistic promises, usually get hit the hardest: "There goes ol' Burt--he worked on the Newton project. Hasn't been the same since." And another promising technology is set back decades (and the generation who pioneered it is lost) for no other reason that that very promise.

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