Combinatorial Innovation

We’re in the middle of a period that we could refer to as a period of “combinatorial innovation.” If you look historically, you’ll find periods in history where there would be the availability of a different component parts that innovators could combine or recombine to create new inventions. In the 1800s, it was interchangeable parts. In 1920, it was electronics. In the 1970s, it was integrated circuits.

Now what we see is a period where you have Internet components, where you have software, protocols, languages, and capabilities to combine these component parts in ways that create totally new innovations.

The great thing about the current period is that component parts are all bits. You can reproduce them, you can duplicate them, and you can have thousands and tens of thousands of innovators combining or recombining the same component parts to create new innovation. It’s a situation where the components are available for everyone.

So one way of developing technical insights is to use some of these accesible technologies and data and apply them in an industry to solve an existing problem in a new way. Another potential source of technical insights is to start with a solution to a narrow problem and look for ways to broaden its scope.

Summing-up: In the Internet Century, we are entering a new period of “combinatorial innovation.” This occurs when there is a great availability of different component parts that can be combined or recombined to create new inventions.

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