The history of the innovation of software is not based – as some people claim by analogy with naturalist Charles Darwin – on chance, mutation and selection. In actuality, it is normally a question of building on previous findings to make them more precise and complete.
“The theory of chance overlooks the fact that, while the process of innovation may not happen according to a plan, it does follow a trend that is apparent to the logical mind,” says Dr Manuel Bachmann, a researcher at the University of Basel and lecturer at the University of Lucerne, in his book “The triumph of the algorithm – how the idea of software was invented”.
Spectacular developments are the exception
Even though in the history of science there have been some spectacular discoveries made by chance from time to time – from penicillin to Teflon to Viagra – these tend to be the exception. The innovation process normally begins with a very specific problem, question or task and is then driven on by a systematic approach and constant questioning. It is not only in the story of software that we see this.
Bachmann refers to the winners of the annual Turing Award: “It is striking that every exceptional innovation that wins the prize marks an increased degree of precision and consistency in relation to the basic problem in question.” There are no “Big Bangs” that characterise the history of the algorithm from the initial idea to the Artificial Intelligence and machine learning that we have today – instead there has been steady further development of existing findings.
Companies are active drivers of change
Change takes place all the time, whether we want it to or not. But if companies want to enjoy enduring success, they have to become active drivers of change. Nowadays, innovations which are the result of a structured process call for interdisciplinary cooperation, clearly defined stages in the quest for new ideas, and agile methods.
Especially in this age of digitisation, with ever-increasing complexity and speed and a growing lack of clarity, the traditional rigid and hierarchical structures are reaching their limits. What is needed is a creative corporate culture which is based on the joy of making discoveries and which also factors in the possibility of failure. Taking risks and “learning from mistakes” are the best ways to guarantee success in the digital world.
Innovation here is always a journey into the unknown. Anyone who wants to achieve more with digitisation than simply “electrifying” existing business processes must be prepared to venture into unknown territory. They must be flexible, react quickly and be willing to try out new things while taking as few risks as possible. “Fail fast, fail cheap, fail forward” is the smart mantra of successful digital innovators.
Travel light on your digital journey
Traditional IT models do not provide a good basis for innovation. They are too slow and unwieldy. Major investment in hardware and software, formal operating processes and narrow limitations on architecture will more than likely stifle innovation at birth. The baggage of traditional information technology is too cumbersome to take on the digital journey.
Flexible infrastructures in the cloud, agile development methods, new forms of corporate management and inter-departmental cooperation in high-performance digital teams – these form the basis for achieving digital transformation successfully. This way, even the thousand-year-old family tree of software development will sprout countless new shoots.