Epistemic Systems

[ cognition – information – knowledge – publishing – science – software ]

Archive for September 2015

What the customer knows, and innovation in digital publishing

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Recently I was asked to give a talk about innovation in digital publishing at a major publishing and membership organization in the engineering and technology field. Or rather that was what I deemed the topic to be. What I was actually asked to address was a Steve Jobs quotation (which may have been a slight paraphrase) – “It’s not the customers job to know what they want”. The presentation is here.

I don’t think I actually said anything very, well, innovative, but the talk offered a nice chance to rediscover some of the ideas I encountered some years ago when I took a course on ‘Computers and Creativity’ under Professor Margaret Boden at the University of Sussex, as part of my masters degree in AI and cognitive science.

The line I took in the talk was that innovation often requires that multiple developments and ideas in disparate areas be brought into contact with each other, and for a host of reasons – cognitive, economic, social, technical, organizational – that can be a hard thing to do. It requires deep knowledge, a sometimes serious level of creativity, and no little insight into market needs and customer motivations. The tablet computer is a case in point, depending as it does on the application of developments in display technology, battery technology, circuit integration, UI design, etc. Innovation in digital publishing, I suggest, is substantially similar, in that it requires us to keep abreast of, select from, and integrate and apply, developments in a host of different technology areas.

That sounds like a big challenge, and it is. But maybe there’s a crumb of comfort to be had in the thought that much – perhaps most – innovation is not radical and revolutionary but is instead incremental and evolutionary. In other words, this version might not be great, but find that something extra and the next one might be. (Just hope that in the mean time your competitors’ offerings don’t take things so far forwards that you can’t recapture the initiative!)

Written by Alex Powell

September 9, 2015 at 9:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized