Minnesota wants to be more innovative. Let’s be careful what we wish for.

It’s clear who’s to blame for our current worries about innovation: Steve Jobs.

Just about every iThing that Apple has come out with in the past decade or so has been an almost instant hit. Each has changed any number of games, mostly in the media realm: publishing, music, photography, telephony, marketing. The iMac, the iPhone, the iPod, and the iPad have all set the standard of innovation.

The recession and the job market’s slow recovery have made numerous Minnesotans worried about our economic future—and whether our state is sufficiently innovative. Local groups like Mojo/Minnesota and 4Front have popped up with the goal of stimulating innovation. In January, Senator Amy Klobuchar convened an “innovation summit” where she laid out an innovation agenda whose ideas, while worthy, weren’t exactly innovative (promote science education, deliver targeted tax breaks, encourage exports).

So what is innovation, anyway? For marketing-minded folk, the equation seems to be this:

innovation = cool
(cool = gets traditional and/or digital media gums flapping, stimulates young people’s fascination)

For politicians, the equation runs this way:

innovation = jobs 
(and not just in the Steve sense)

In fact, innovation is more liquid than solid. And unlike the iThings, innovations aren’t always hot stuff. It often takes a while for markets to adjust; their effects are typically more gradual and under the radar. And along with the benefits can come some unintended consequences.

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