Necessity is the mother of inventionI was preparing a talk for Techno at the Impact Centre recently recently on evaluating new innovations and I ran into this old proverb again: Necessity is the mother of invention.

I thought about it for a while and realized that the expression is very apt but that there is a corollary to it and that is that “Innovation depends upon Necessity.”

My thesis, which I presented in not quite so elegant terms to the Techno participants is that innovation only happens when people are forced to innovate. I’m not talking about the people who come up with innovative products or services but about necessity being a precondition to users actually adopting an innovation.

And why is this? It’s because for the most part, there are all sorts of natural barriers to innovation. You can probably summarize these natural barriers in a few buckets:

  • Costs of implementing the new innovation.
  • Risks of failure
  • Changes required to behaviour
  • Psychological barriers to change

And the biggest one of all I think is that people are generally lazy. They can expend no extra effort to do what they have always done but to innovate, they need to expend energy, time, and money.

I’ve seen lots and developed a few products and services that go absolutely nowhere in the market despite being real improvements over what is out there. When I look back at all of them I can find one of the barriers listed above standing in the way.

When all is said and done, there must be some powerful force to counteract the barriers to innovation. Unfortunately, having a better product just isn’t enough.

There must be some other force, whether it is regulatory, competitive, technological or economic that makes someone need to innovate. So I think the corollary works: Innovation depends on necessity.