[EAS] Wicked Innovation
pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Thu Jun 10 02:20:48 EDT 2004
Subject: Wicked Innovation
(from INNOVATION, 9 June 2004)
Technology journalist Michael Schrage suggests that viruses and
worms ("virms," he calls them) offer a superb case study in "wicked
innovation" and "innovative wickedness" -- in which cheating is the
essence of success. Schrage says there are two kinds of innovators:
those who compete with each other and generally respect the rules
of the marketplace, and those whose goal is to crush competition.
The first kind of innovation is about value creation; the second
kind is about value negation. "The compete-against dynamic is an
escalating innovation arms race where the economic goal is less to
create new value for customers than to defeat or hoodwink the
enemy. The conflict is defined by measure vs. countermeasure vs.
counter-countermeasure." Wicked innovators "prey upon the fact that
in most arenas of technology, security and authenticity are
afterthoughts" -- and so (to be honest about it) dishonesty "is
often a superb innovation strategy." To defeat them, you have to
play their games of deception. Schrage concludes that the lesson
pathological innovation teaches is that the economics of cheating
play as great a role in defining value as the economics of
adoption. (Technology Review Jun 2004)
(copy of article follows further below)
Michael Schrage's thoughts about competition have cropped up in
these mailings before, e.g. regarding his 2002 book "No More Teams"
the age of "University Inc." it will become a particular
administrative challenge to insist on the kind of academic
competition that creates larger opportunities for intellectual value
rather than crushing them. --PJK
(from (Technology Review Jun 2004))
We can lament the mischief of hackers, thieves, and trickstersÑor we
can learn lessons in innovation from them.
By Michael Schrage -- Making good ideas matter, June 2004
I love you.
I love you with a passion that burns like a white-hot nova. As a
digital testament to my love, please put this magazine down and
immediately go to iloveyouutterly.com to download a very special "I
love you" screen saver. YouÕll love it almost as much as I love you.
Are you back? Actually, I donÕt love you. I never did. In fact, IÕd
think you were a few bits short of a byte if you ever clicked to
such a site or opened an "I love you" e-mail attachment from someone
youÕve never met. Nevertheless, millions of PC owners have had their
machines brought to their metaphorical knees by viruses and worms
(virms?) promising love from strangers, "wicked screen savers," or
compromising photos of Anna Kournikova. Lord, what fools we mortals
But letÕs turn these bugs into a feature. Cold, dispassionate
analysis affirms that such "virmen" are among computerdomÕs most
successful innovations ever. TheyÕve utterly transformed the network
experience. TheyÕre global; theyÕre local; theyÕre persistent;
theyÕre pervasive. They cleverly exploit both human and technical
weaknesses. They matter.
The proliferation and permutation of viruses and worms offers a
superb case study in wicked innovation and innovative wickedness.
Why do such innovations succeed? What can and should we learn from
their continuing success? Just as society better understands health
by better understanding disease, markets better appreciate healthy
innovation by grasping the dynamics of pathological innovation.
Deception is at the dark heart of wicked innovation. Alluringly
misrepresented e-mail attachments and "phishing" expeditionsÑthe
fraudulent use of corporate names and logos to gather peopleÕs
credit card numbersÑare only the most obvious examples. The use of
anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and other illicit
performance enhancers in baseball, football, and Olympic sports
represents another genre of effectively deceptive innovation. In a
field where the price of being found out is high, these "natural"
substances give users a competitive edge with a low risk of
Precisely because cheating is the essence of wicked innovation, we
need to rethink the role of competition in its pathology. Two kinds
of innovators stand out. The first are those who "compete with" each
other; that is, they respect certain rules in their efforts to
succeed in the marketplace. The second are "compete against"
innovators whose goal is to spread their own inventions and
eliminate their competition, free choice in the marketplace be
damned. Compete-with innovation is about value creation;
compete-against innovation is about value negation.
Microsoft vs. open source is a classic compete-with contest; both
sides, for the most part, play fair. World War IIÕs "Battle of the
Beams" between German and British engineers trying to coordinateÑand
thwartÑelectronic navigation aids for nighttime bombing raids is a
perfect example of a compete-against innovation marketplace. The
compete-against dynamic is an escalating innovation arms race where
the economic goal is less to create new value for customers than to
defeat or hoodwink the enemy. The conflict is defined by "measure
vs. countermeasure vs. counter-countermeasure." The result? Deceit,
deception, and misrepresentation are the mission-critical media for
Viruses, identity theft, performance-enhancing drugs, phishing, and
other compete-against innovations succeed because they so
effectively exploit both human virtues and human venality. They
alternately appeal to the seven deadly sinsÑvanity, sloth, envy,
gluttony, etc.Ñand to our compassion and curiosity. "Social
engineering" matters as much as technical engineering.
Equally important, wicked innovators prey upon the fact that in most
arenas of technology, security and authenticity are afterthoughts.
The Internet, for example, was never designed with security in mind;
the most important protections have all been retrofits. Neither the
Olympics nor Major League Baseball evolved with the expectation that
so many world-class athletes would choose to cheat chemically.
Pathological innovation has moved cheating from the margins to the
Should compete-with innovators fight fire with fire and use
deception of their own to combat wicked innovators? Should they give
their customers and clients better tools to battle pathological
innovation? Or should we simply throw up our hands, declare wicked
innovation a "public policy" issue, and count on the regulators,
courts, and legislators to rescue us?
The correct answer, of course, is "all of the above." Honesty
compels us to admit that dishonesty is often a superb innovation
strategy. Compete-with innovators have little choice but to grow a
bit trickier and more deceptive in their own security investments,
creating tools such as the online "honey pots" that use dummy credit
card data to lure in and trace hackers. Wicked compete-against
innovators, ironically and inevitably, will increasingly drive
innovation in compete-with markets. The single most important lesson
pathological innovation teaches is that the economics of cheating
play as great a role in defining value as the economics of adoption.
YouÕve got to love that.
A researcher and consultant on innovation economics, Michael Schrage
is the author of Serious Play (Harvard Business School Press, 2000).
Copyright 2004 Technology Review, Inc. All rights reserved
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