Invention vs. Improvement

If you ask people what kind of eating utensil they wish they had, they can't imagine anything but what they know; it takes a genius to invent the spork, the trong, and the splayd. If you ask people to imagine a color they haven't seen, they can't. Invention is not primarily driven by minor improvements.

Small improvements are the realm of the engineer, which is a very conservative profession. I foolishly attended an engineering school, when i would have been happier in a science-oriented university. The training of engineers is primarily negative: they see what failed, and avoid it, using safe-for-deployment proven methods. Really quite opposite in their fundamental attitudes about change. The artist/inventor boldly goes where nobody imagines, and often suffers greatly because people reject things oftentimes when it is too far from their current experience.

For example, I was one of a lucky few students who attended a talk by John Backus, the inventor of FORTRAN, about his new Functional language, and when he told the professors in attendance that you couldn't update a variable they were shocked and leaving the room all shook their heads and exclaimed he was a madman. Fast forward to now and everyone and their brother is talking about functional languages. Panasonic used to always end their ads with the slogan "slightly ahead of our time".

It is far more lucrative to be slightly ahead than way ahead! Or as they say, you can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their chest.