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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Innovation and Creative Destruction

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Fred Wilson has a magnificent post up this morning from Berlin titled Bits Of Destruction.  In it, he nails a critical point about innovation.

“This downturn will be marked in history as the time where many of the business models built in the industrial era finally collapsed as a result of being undermined by the information age. Its creative destruction at work. It’s painful and many jobs will be lost permanently. But let’s also remember that its inevitable and we can’t fight it. Technology and information forces are unstoppable and they will reshape the world as we know it regardless of whether or not we want them to.”

Go read the whole article – he gives several real examples (publishing, banking, retailing, and auto).  Then come back here to finish up and hear my punch line.

I’ve been living and working in and around innovation and entrepreneurship my entire adult life, starting with my first company and the research I did as a masters and Ph.D. student at MIT Sloan School under Eric von Hippel.  My life experiences, along with all the history I’ve studied, come back to the same notion.

Innovation is a continual process of creative destruction of the norm.

People talk about economic cycles and waves of innovation.  These are intersecting forces that drive each other.  But innovation is not just limited to business, technology, and science – it impacts all of our existence on this planet.  Think about innovation in religion, philosophy, art, architecture, social structures, forms of government, urban planning, economic theory, expression of human sexuality – whatever you want.

In the late 1990’s, there were a bunch of people, myself (and Fred) included, who believed that the Internet would have a dramatic impact on the way our world works and we live our lives.  After the Internet bubble burst in 2001, there were a lot of people in “the established business world” who said something akin to “see – that was just a fad.”  Anyone who has clung to the idea that the Internet was a fad is in a world of hurt right now, as the premise, functions, and implications of the Internet revolution of the late 1990’s becomes deeply instantiated across the global economy. 

The next 20 years are going to be awesome.  We inevitably will have lots of challenges and pain along the way as the waves of creative destruction pummel existing norms.  But that’s just the way innovation works – and has always worked.

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