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Innovation is Effectal

Innovation is Effectal

GUEST POST from Dennis Stauffer

We all learned quite early in life that the world around us works according to cause and effect. That things move in predictable ways. There are reasons why things happen and our actions have consequences.

Scientists call this determinism, and most would argue that it governs the universe. That everything has a cause and an effect. When you can identify those causes, you can predict the effects.

However, innovation works a bit differently. Rather than causal, Innovation is effectal. (Yes, that’s a made-up word.) Cause and effect still holds. But that’s not what matters most. Success is determined not by prior causes, but by outcomes.

For example, when a scientist forms some new theory, and conducts experiments to test that theory, who came up with it, and who did the experiment doesn’t matter much (other than to give credit where it may be due). What matters is whether the experiment turns out as predicted—it’s effect. That’s what determines whether the theory is correct and what enables further progress.

In nature—which is arguably the ultimate innovator—random mutations cause organisms to change. Those changes are frequently harmful, but occasionally one enhances survival and gets passed along to future generations. It doesn’t matter which organism had the mutation (unless you’re that organism). It just needs to occur somewhere in a population. What determines the success or failure of that mutation is how it turns out—its effect.

When a new product is developed, it can be the most amazing technology, created by brilliant engineers. But what determines success or failure is how customers respond. Do they buy it? That effect is what matters. Remember the Segue Transporter? Fascinating self-balancing technology that was supposed to revolutionize transportation—except that very few people wanted to pay for one.

The central question in all these cases is not whether some new possibility has been invented. It’s, does anyone care? What’s its practical effect? Does it work? It’s a reality worth keeping in mind whenever you face any challenge in life. What you care most about is how things turn out.

Innovation isn’t just about imagining great new ideas, or even about acting on those ideas. It’s about determining whether those ideas work. Do they create value? The most successful innovators are brutally pragmatic, always checking to make sure their ideas fit the environment, align with the larger realities around them, and serve some useful purpose. Because if they don’t, nothing lasting will happen.

Whenever you seek to find solutions, make improvements, or invent new possibilities, the imperative is to find out whether it works. “What’s the effect?” is the crucial question you need to answer—because innovation is effectal.

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