The Innovation Delusion: : How Our Obsession with the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most
by Lee Vinsel and Andrew L. Russell
Currency (Penguin Random House)
September 2020, 272 pages
It’s hard to avoid innovation these days. Nearly every product gets marketed as being disruptive, whether it’s genuinely a new invention or just a new toothbrush. But in this manifesto on the state of American work, historians of technology Lee Vinsel and Andrew L. Russell argue that our way of thinking about and pursuing innovation has made us poorer, less safe, and—ironically—less innovative.
Drawing on years of original research and reporting, The Innovation Delusion shows how the ideology of change for its own sake has proved a disaster. Corporations have spent millions hiring chief innovation officers while their core businesses tank. Computer science programs have drilled their students on programming and design, even though the overwhelming majority of jobs are in IT and maintenance. In countless cities, suburban sprawl has left local governments with loads of deferred repairs that they can’t afford to fix. And sometimes innovation even kills—like in 2018 when a Miami bridge hailed for its innovative design collapsed onto a highway and killed six people.
In this provocative, deeply researched book, Vinsel and Russell tell the story of how we devalued the work that underpins modern life—and, in doing so, wrecked our economy and public infrastructure while lining the pockets of consultants who combine the ego of Silicon Valley with the worst of Wall Street’s greed. The authors offer a compelling plan for how we can shift our focus away from the pursuit of growth at all costs, and back toward neglected activities like maintenance, care, and upkeep.
Lee Vinsel is a professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech.
Andrew L. Russell is a professor of history and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Together, they are the founders of the Maintainers research network and conferences, and their writing on the topics of this book have appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Wired.