I’m a huge tetris geek and so when I discovered Torus, my first reaction was “That’s so obvious, why the hell didn’t I think of that?” which lead me to thinking about how almost every person has their own personal theory about how they think innovation happens and yet they are so rarely inclined to put that theory under empirical scrutiny.
Some people believe that innovation is technology limited and that as soon as a new product becomes practical, someone will build it. Often, the critical technological factor might not be the most obvious one. Looking at torus, their reaction would be that sure, it would have been technically feasible 20 years ago but such a variant never would have spread without the viral power of the internet. Because there’s so many entrepreneurs working on so many different approaches to the problem, one of them is bound to hit on a good idea eventually.
Other people believe that innovation is a matter of luck, talent and persistance. MP3 players as good as the iPod and search engines as good as Google were perfectly possible well before they came out but it took the genius of the designers at Apple/Google to finally show people what an MP3 player/search engine could be.
There are still others who believe innovation is a social process driven by fads and fashions. People innovated in social networking because social networking was what’s hot. Now, they’re innovating in iPhone apps. Driving innovation is largely a matter of pushing trends.
In truth, all of these explainations are more or less valid in different areas and every sophisticated person holds a complex mix of all these views but I think it’s interesting and useful to articulate your own view so that you can determine whether it’s correct or not.