Are great innovations driven by utopian ideas?

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Bertil W. Hök


Case studies of well documented, great innovations were performed with focus on their underlying, basic ideas. In retrospect, these ideas may seem obvious, but at the time of conception, they were considered utopian, here defined as imaginative, unexpected, counterintuitive, or unrealistic by most people, including experts. The build-up of the utopian ideas in each of the case studies is shortly described along with a critical analysis about their roles, importance, and risk exposure in the individual cases. The ideas were ranked according to defined criteria of importance, risk, and utopian potential, and this ranking was compared to the ranking of the overall impact of the analyzed innovations. The results suggest that the utopian idea potential correlates with the overall impact. The World Wide Web and the smartphones are prominent examples of great innovations driven by utopian ideas. The significance of these findings is discussed in view of current innovation models and in recognition of the heuristic character of the reported investigation.

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