Tech innovation: is our obsession unhealthy?

Our culture is one obsessed with tech innovation. There’s always hype around the newest cool product release or announcement. Be it a driverless car, the latest AI achievement or an ‘intelligent’ juicer, we’re innovating our way into the future.

But that’s not necessarily a good thing. “Innovation” has become a buzzword. It’s tacked onto every hardware launch and used to describe almost every software service. And unfortunately, our lust for innovation often comes at the expense of usability and maintenance.

So, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Is our relentless drive for tech innovation helpful, or unhealthy?

What is tech innovation?

Tech innovation refers to new ideas, products and approaches in the tech industry. We typically think of it as revolutionary, changing the way we interact with the world. However, tech innovation can also be evolutionary – changing old process and products into something new.

Either way, anything in tech that fundamentally changes the way we approach and do things is a tech innovation. Innovation promises a better tomorrow; tech innovation promises it through technology.

Innovation obsession

We live in a society fixated with the idea of “innovation.” Everyone wants to be considered innovative, to be the pioneers of tomorrow.

In terms of software and product development, this manifests as a burning desire to rock the boat with edgy tech concepts. We want to be the next Steve Jobs with a revolutionary product like the iPhone, or Sir Tim Berners Lee with the internet.

This obsession with tech innovation means that we’re always pushing for the next new thing. So, companies and consumers alike are caught in a constant churn of the next product launch, the next big update, or the next new release.

And — sometimes dizzyingly — users receive a barrage of these updates and releases from every tech innovation-obsessed business. The tech we use every day is constantly changing.

Moving ahead, or running in place?

Everyone wants to be a part of tech innovation. It’s exciting, it’s new, it’s driving the future. But do any of the so-called innovations we see today count as a tech innovation, or are they just hot air?

For example, there can be no doubt that the smartphone was revolutionary. But how much has intrinsically changed since then?

Unfortunately, we tend to call things innovative without qualifying the claim. The word has diluted in meaning. Like “awesome” in a sublime sense, or “epic” in a mythically heroic sense, the word “innovative” is somewhat lessened in impact of late.

Plus, tech innovation is hard to track. Its draw is the idea of being at the forefront of progression — to be the one opening the door to the future. Yet with everyone innovating, no one is. It takes all the innovation you can do to stay in the same place, keeping up with the rest of the tech world.

So, does our obsession with tech innovation mean that we’re moving ahead, or are we just running in place?

The positives of tech innovation

Whether we’re truly innovating or not, there are positives to a repeated release cycle.

  1. Increased engagement from the hype
  2. New user interfaces or improved/added functionality are often great for the user experience
  3. We’re all constantly striving to advance our knowledge

It’s easy to sit back and criticise, but the truth is that tech innovation can be (and often is) incredibly helpful. But it’s still enormously overvalued and habitually exaggerated.

The dark side of innovation obsession

This leads us to the dark side of our obsession with tech innovation. Unfortunately, many people assume that a lack of innovation in a company means complacency and the risk of falling into obscurity.

This simply isn’t the case. In fact, over-focusing on innovation can create problems for your users and confuse your core offering.

Leads to the neglect of (and disdain for) maintenance

The more we glorify tech innovation, the more mundane the role of maintenance seems. The problem is, the emphasis placed on innovation causes an ever-changing tech landscape.

This means that your software or product will need maintaining, repairing and updating to keep up. Despite the spotlight that our obsession gives to tech innovation, it’s the nitty-gritty maintenance that’s more likely to improve the user experience. And users will notice if you fail to pay attention to it.

• Doesn’t put user problems at the heart of your solutions

With so much urgency placed on innovating, innovating, innovating, less attention is paid to what the user wants and needs. This means that the new feature you’ve just added might be new, different and innovative, but it doesn’t add value for the user. It doesn’t solve their problem.

It can ruin your product

Focusing on innovation leads us to constantly strive for the next release, for the next new thing. While this is admirable, it can lead to us being unable to see the woods for the trees. In our pursuit of new and innovative, we can lose or bury the core purpose of the product.

Obsessing over innovation can, therefore, lead to overengineered software, disposable design, feature creep, and user frustration.

Don’t put maintenance in the corner

Innovation is overrated. Far from forging the future, our obsession with tech innovation could be holding us back from providing great user experiences, and genuine, ground-breaking inventions.

So, instead of obsessing, find a balance. Real innovation and creative thinking are great – they change the way we see the world. Innovation is worth our time. But that doesn’t mean leaving maintenance and the user experience to gather dust in the corner.

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