ITS Weekly - 21 April 2017

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Headline of the Week: How We Got to Now:  Six Innovations that Made the Modern World

One thing I’m proud of is that all our (adult) children like to read. Our oldest (she cooks for a living) suggested that I might like a book she was currently reading, How We Got to Now:  Six Innovations that Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. As we are thinking about strategic planning at Luther College the idea of innovation, innovative thinking, differentiation and change are top of mind. She was right; it was a great recommendation.

Wonderfully it is available through Preus via the Iowa Library Alliance and I had it in hand in just a few days. Hats off to the ILL team and their systems! I made my request for the book at 7:30 am on Wednesday. Ninety minutes later the request for the book was sent off. It was physically available to me on Monday after the courier arrived. I started reading on Saturday morning before Easter Sunday and finished the conclusion Monday before breakfast. I encourage you to use the Iowa Library Alliance backed Interlibrary Loan system. Seems someone in the Alliance has everything I look to seek out.

The book is made up of fascinating historic innovation stories that pull threads through complex chains of influences, people, markets and time that have led to the creation and availability of everyday objects/systems that are so essential to modern living yet are so easy to take for granted. It is a wonderful guide to reflecting on these extraordinary innovations and how they came to be as well as the subsequent stream of innovations that came as a consequence of them. In some cases an innovation led to another problem that needed to be solved. In others the innovation provided some sort of enabling capability that contributed to solving a seemingly unrelated problem. Fascinating stories so compelling I could hardly put it down. Reassuring and hopeful in the power of people and time.

Another way to read the book is to think about the nature and process of innovation using the stories as exemplars for the innovation process. One can see how innovation is sometimes impacted by singular brilliance and sometimes groups of diverse contributors. It shows how time and other contributing innovations play important roles. It shows how one set of innovations provides the foundation on which new ones are built. One learns that sometimes the time is just right and you see independent groups coming up with the same innovations.

What were big takeaways? One is well-known and the book provides excellent cases and a good reminder. Incremental improvements and changes occur within disciplines where many people are focused. Breakthroughs occur at the edges and in the “gaps” between disciplines. It especially happens when a person or persons have more than one expertise. This is encouragement for breadth and depth as well as for collaboration across disciplines. God bless the polymath! “Better to make new connections than remain comfortably situated in the same routine.”

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Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

How We Got to Now:  Six Innovations that Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

ITS Blog Highlights from the Week

The following articles are sampled from those available on the ITS Blog:

Notes from ITS Council

ITS Council is the leadership team within Information Technology Services.

Council was not able to meet this week.

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ITS Weekly is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of Information Technology Services at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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