Most Inventors Are Iterators

Thomas EdisonThomas Edison

In an interesting opinion piece, a Las Vegas columnist covering startups decided to talk about the turn that inventors have taken, especially in the technology world. In it, he claims that most inventors are not true inventors, they are iterators instead. They take on first-world problem inventions, then make them slightly better. Let's face it, when we go to a VC show, or to a tech conference, what types of gadgets and products grab media attention? It could be a better location app, one that allows you to call in a cab from your smartphone instead of hailing one down the road, or outsourcing your dry cleaning instead of picking it up yourself. Let's just say we are far from the Thomas Edison days.

According to him, these are all first world problems, when so many world problems still remain. Inventors, he says, should focus on bigger things, and regain that spot that inventions once had. Not as a slightly improved iPhone app, but something that can truly make a difference. He recounts the story of someone who created a way for farmers to get real time quotes about the weather and agricultural information by SMS. This is something that is of no utility to a San Francisco pundit, and would likely not bring in VC funds, but when talking to the millions of Kenyan farmers who have low cost phones who cannot accept apps, this suddenly makes a lot of sense.

Are inventors really iterators these days? It might well be that they always have been, and inventors deal mostly with problems they know. It can be hard for a San Francisco inventor to fully realize what Kenyan farmers need, but instead why not create something that enables local inventors, those in Kenya, to create what they need? By working that way, then suddenly you become more than an iterator, you really help change the world.