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Innovation vs. Diffusion

An interesting article on the trade-off between innovation and diffusion, using the war on cancer as example:

The social conditions that birthed a new idea in one place impeded the spread of that same idea in another. People who push for greater innovation in the marketplace often naïvely assume that what is good for the innovator is also, down the line, good for the diffusion of their ideas. And people worried about diffusion often position themselves as the friends of innovation, as if a system that does well at spreading good ideas necessarily makes it easier to come up with good ideas.

Innovation requires an environment that not only tolerates, but promotes flexibility, unorthodox approaches, ‘going rogue’ and the freedom to tinker and improvise. On the other hand, the diffusion of ideas (i.e. the fruits of free-wheeling innovations)—the adoption of a new treatment regimen for cancer, for example—often requires some form of rules or guidelines to ensure the essence of the ‘idea’ is not lost in the diffusion process. How we balance the need to conform to tried and tested methods and the desire to innovate is a non-trivial matter. Like many things in life, alas, we can’t always have our cake and eat it too.


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