Throughout history, there have been very notable points of innovation. These events have led to innovation and accelerated social development, and have had a very profound effect on the modern world, as we understand it. Social structures have always evolved, yet there were always limitations placed on the optimised size of an organisational construct such as an independent city or village. These limitations were often critical factors, and an example of such is the ability to sustain the inhabitants through food, protection and/or economic factors.
The spark for knowledge exchange
In the 1400, Gutenberg invented the printing press, enabling the first wave of knowledge exchange. Previous to the invention of the industrial printing press, vast amounts of books were produced by ecclesiastical scribes, copying page after page of original text into a copied handwritten book. Because of the limited availability of books and the labour intensive requirements of book production, only a very limited number of people could read. Not only did the printing press give greater exposure of the written word to the masses (and it therefore facilitated an interest in literacy), it also provided the platform for capturing knowledge and innovation. This knowledge capturing process allowed information to be transported, shared across groups and communities and the concept of innovation spread in a way that could not have been achieved before hand.
Spreading the word, sharing innovation
The invention of the printing press allowed for the innovation and knowledge of the agricultural revolution to be captured and spread across Europe, rapidly. The spread of improvements to farming techniques facilitated a huge explosion of population and the conditions were established for the industrial revolution to take place, and the onset of the new industrial factory form.
Second wave of knowledge exchange
The increased pace of industrialisation and improved manufacturing techniques led to many innovations. One such development was the railway, which first appeared in the UK and was then embraced in the flourishing new territories of the USA. The railways presented an interesting problem to organisational design. It was the first mass organisation that was geographically spread over vast distances, making command and control a problem. The answer to this new problem came through a wired communication system. Along the huge railway lines ran telegraph wires, thus ensuring effective real-time communications across a vast area.
Soon, this technology made way for wireless communications, which once again revolutionised trade and communications. A large amount of trade took place by boat and until the invention of wireless communications, it was impossible to change the destination of cargo once the ship had set sale on its voyage. Wireless communications allowed trade to extend into the real-time world of movements of goods and created the real-time global economy.
Third wave of knowledge exchange
After the end of the Second World War, many organisation and technologies that had previously been employed in the war effort were then employed in commercial ventures. A young physicist, Timothy Berns-Lee, is credited with inventing the Internet in 1989 utilising server communications. Few inventions have grown so rapidly and had such a profound effect as the Internet. The Internet has enabled information exchange in a rapid and dynamic space, and it has also provided the platform for new social networks to form outside of organisational constructs. This phenomenon has allowed a rapid development of new technologies and signalled an acceleration of innovation similar to the effect of the invention of the computer.
Where will this take us?
Innovation and knowledge exchange is continuing to accelerate. Ideas, products and services appear to have an increasingly shorter and shorter “half-life”. New ideas and concepts are canalising established products and services at an increased rate. Maintaining user acceptance and critical mass relies on developing new technologies, services and products based on user accepted standards and social requirements for new innovations. In short, new innovations need to be useful, easy to use and primarily based around the practice of 'plug and play'.