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It’s Not All Lightbulbs

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It’s Not All Lightbulbs

If we abandon the cult of the Great White Innovator, we will understand the history of technology in a much deeper way


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Innovation has made the world what it is today – but is innovation really what people think it is?

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Innovative
  • Inspiring


Most people associate the term “innovation” with brilliant masterminds who singlehandedly produce an invention so disruptive that it rejiggers the course of the world. Historian W. Patrick McCray argues that the conventional notion of how technology advances is a collective myth. In this article, he provides fascinating examples to make a convincing case for a more complex and nuanced view of innovation. getAbstract recommends McCray’s essay to entrepreneurs and those in charge of corporate innovation.


The myth about innovation holds that it’s dramatic, disruptive, unpredictable and revolutionary. According to the myth, brilliant, lone geniuses – usually men – drive advances with sudden and sweeping breakthroughs; innovation is discontinuous and destabilizing; and innovators are rock-star free thinkers.

In truth, technology often moves forward incrementally. Significant advances may assume humble shapes: Bureaucrats and engineers in the background, for example, negotiated in painstaking detail the political processes of international...

About the Author

Historian W. Patrick McCray is the author of The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future.

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