The cult of disruptive innovation: Where America went wrong
In business and in technology, just because you can doesn't mean you should.
Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University. She is also a staff writer at The New Yorker. A prize-winning professor, she teaches classes in evidence, historical methods, humanistic inquiry, and American history. Much of her scholarship explores absences and asymmetries in the historical record, with a particular emphasis on the histories and technologies of evidence and of privacy. As a wide-ranging and prolific essayist, Lepore writes about American history, law, literature, and politics. She is the author of many award-winning books. Her latest book is These Truths: A History of the United States (2018)
JILL LEPORE: To my view a lot of our contemporary political crisis derives from an abandonment of the idea of moral progress. So when the country was founded in the 18th century its framers subscribed to an idea that progress is moral. And that idea of progress came from Christianity that pilgrim's progress is a journey from sin to salvation. Enlightenment philosophers, like the guys who drafted the founding documents of the United States, didn't necessarily share that particular Christian notion of a journey from sin to salvation, but they understood progress and the United States and its founding as an experiment would lead to political progress because it was designed to improve the lives of the most people, that people would act in a sense of a common endeavor as a republic that our obligations would be to one another in the form of community and that we should understand achievement as moral progress.
That changed over the course of the 19th century when progress came to have a real technological cast. Think about the railroad, the telegraph, the camera, people began to think about progress as advancing like a train on a linear track and each machine would make the world better because things would go faster and goods would become cheaper. And very quickly that idea of moral progress was replaced by progress as prosperity. So if you were asking how are things going for the country? Well, the country is prospering. We have made progress.
And the slippage from we've made a more just society to certain people and a lot of people are making a lot more money and a lot of goods are cheaper for people to buy, that's a real slippage. So you then, in the 20th century, progress is even less new forms of production and accelerated production, but accelerated consumption. So the more people are buying, the more goods people have the standard of living is rising therefore we have progress.
At the end of the second half of the 20th century the idea that there even is progress, especially technologically driven progress, begins to fall apart because of Hiroshima. Because people look at the world, what's technological progress gotten us in the middle of the century? We have build a bomb that can destroy the whole planet and by the 1950s we are destroying the environment and it may be possible that human life cannot live on this planet indefinitely under these circumstances or even for the next several centuries. So there's a real crisis in the idea of progress. Historians have been writing about this for a long time. By the time you get to the 1980s and 1990s there's a new generation of technological utopians and they start talking about innovation as progress. Innovation historically as a word means progress without any concern for morality. Innovation in the 18th century sense is bad. Innovation is novelty for its own sake – like just invent it and who cares what the consequences are. Innovation historically is actually quite a dreadful and damning thing to accuse somebody of "you're innovating" is a very grave accusation.
So, by the 1980s there's such a kind of reckless heedlessness in American businesses and it's the kind of the great the sort of merger age, kind of like Wall Street grubbiness that kind of Michael Douglas movie moment like that greed is good kind of thing that innovation, this heedless innovation is fine because this is how this creative destruction, this Schumpeter term that gets recycled, this is the engine of economic growth. And nothing else matters, the public good, moral integrity, decency, goodness for more people, the health of the republic, all that matters is is it innovative? And then by the 1990s is it disruptively innovative? Or is it even more radically innovative that it disrupts existing models of business and disrupts existing industries? And so you get this real embrace of heedlessness as an American value or as a corporate value, which is a complete abdication of this spirit of progress.
And it's also designed the whole ideology it really is like a religion it's very cult-y the idea of disruptive innovation. It's designed to refute its own critics, it's designed to refuse critics because among its principles is that the past doesn't matter. No one should ever study history or care about the past because if you're going to be a disruptive innovator if all that matters is novelty you don't want to know - if you're going to invent a new ride service you shouldn't study taxi dispatch because it will interfere with the creative destruction that you're capable of and it will limit your vision and it will make your disruptive innovation insufficiently innovative and insufficiently disruptive so you have to abdicate the past.
There is no concern with the past. People want to criticize you for failing, oh no failure is actually a virtue of disruptive innovation. It's a very self-contained explanation that in my view introduces an extraordinary amount of disequilibrium into a political system that is a republic, that is actually designed on the idea that in many ways businesses have to have the public interest at heart, because the government is protecting their capacity to do business by creating civil order and safety for the transportation of goods and government provides all kinds of services that make it possible for businesses to thrive, therefore businesses too have to be concerned with a healthy social and political order – with avoiding wild inequalities of wealth and income with avoiding wild political turbulence. But disruptive innovation isn't concerned with any of those things, disruptive innovation is concerned with blowing things up.
- 'Disruptive innovation' is a dangerous buzzword.
- There's a world of difference between progress and prosperity.
- Historian Jill Lepore believes she can pinpoint the moment America went off the rails.
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Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.
- Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
- The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
- The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Credit: Airspeeder<p>To prevent crashes, Airspeeder is working with the companies Acronis and Teknov8 to develop "high-speed collision avoidance" systems for its Speeders.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"As they compete, Speeders will utilise cutting-edge LiDAR and Machine Vision technology to ensure close but safe racing, with defined and digitally governed no-fly areas surrounding spectators and officials," Airspeeder wrote in a <a href="https://airspeeder.com/news/2020/9/7/airspeeder-worlds-first-flying-electric-car-racing-series-partners-with-cyber-protection-leader-acronis-34g4k" target="_blank">blog post</a>.</p>
Credit: Airspeeder<p>Beyond motorsports, Airspeeder hopes to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector. This sector is where companies like <a href="https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2020-01-07/hyundai-and-uber-announce-evtol-air-taxi-partnership" target="_blank">Uber, Hyundai</a>, and Airbus are working to develop air taxis, which could someday take the ridesharing industry into the skies. By 2040, the autonomous urban aircraft industry could be worth $1.5 trillion, according to a <a href="https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/autonomous-aircraft" target="_blank">2019 report</a> from Morgan Stanley.</p><p>Still, many technical and regulatory hurdles remain. Matt Pearson, Airspeeder's founder and CEO, thinks the futuristic motorsport will help to not only speed up that process, but also pave the way for self-driving cars.</p>
Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage