New is not a purpose in itself
New technology, new ideas, new trends – there’s always something attractive about the new. We love novelties not just because they give us something to surprise others with, but because they may give us an upper hand before everyone else catches up.
There is even an entire industry just to capture and convey everything that could be considered new, basically what no one else has heard or read before. It is even called News!
In public innovation new is also a desirable feature. It is common to judge ideas by examining their “innovation height“, which basically determines if it is “new enough”. Not seldomly, this is also a popular argument to reject an idea or a project application. When it is not new enough, it is apparently not worth supporting with public resources.
And of course we should not address a challenge by developing solutions that have already been tried and dismissed. But we mustn’t confuse innovative enough with new enough. To clarify this distinction we must understand that innovative means not just new and groundbreaking, but also successful. Innovation successfully new in the sense that it actually creates the value it was intended to create. And then it makes sense to say that if it works it is obviously new enough. Either someone hasn’t actually tried it before and if someone did and it failed then something must have changed since then, which means the idea has not been tried under these circumstances before – hence new enough to work. So you might even say that ”innovation height” is a bit of a pointless definition.
So why are we so keen to come up with everything new? We must remind ourselves of what we really want to achieve in the first place. Do we want to solve the problem in an effective way that continues to be effective over time? Or is it more important to do it in a spectacularly new way? On behalf of the tax payers I argue we should stick with the first one.
It is not just fun to try new ways. It is surprisingly hard to make them work and there is a significant risk they will not work at all. I would argue that if we could just make solutions happen then they would be new enough. And if we can make real things happen in whatever genius way that might be, then that in itself should make it to the news.