3 min read

🔴 The pace layers of innovation

Why the different forms of innovation can only move at a different speed. Not so much because some are slower or faster, but because they impact different layers of the market infrastructure.
🔴 The pace layers of innovation
Photo by Reid Zura / Unsplash

In The Clock Of The Long Now, Stewart BRAND introduced a simple but powerful model for how the different layers of our civilization were evolving at different paces. From the break-neck speed of fashion and commerce to the slower tectonic shifts of culture and nature.  

The pace layers of civilization (Stewart Brand, 2000)

Once seen, like any powerful mental model, it's difficult to forget.

Stéphanie referred to it too in 2017 when working on the different stacks of corporate culture change:

The full-stack corporate culture (Stéphanie Mitrano, 2017)

I also caught myself coming back to it just a few days ago to develop how a more systemic approach to innovation was necessary in turbulent times. The core idea is that innovation is both a slow and fast game, which is constrained by different types of market infrastructures:

The pace layers of market infrastructures. 

To have a decent shot at delivering business opportunities, different innovation modes are necessary with shorter or longer payoffs:

Peeling the onion of innovation diffusion through the different market infrastructures.

For instance, technological innovation rarely hits the market layer directly. It generally has to impact and transform physical infrastructures, which will unlock new software capabilities and produce market change. This is why Moore's law is vastly misunderstood at first: we can easily monitor how technological capabilities grow at exponential speed but fail to see the connection with how the market will change until it's too late. This market change is only a second order of consequences of technological innovation; a vast and slower ripple effect of the underlying stacks if you will.

And deeper forms of innovation are, by nature, even slower to produce any form of impact (if they even do):

Deeptech innovation is not slow in itself but the way it has to percolate the different layers up to the market always is. 

Not to mention that a lot (most) of all these innovation trajectories are dictated not by any market transformation will, but by our collective taste for hype and all things that glitter:

The full pace layers of innovation.

The key take-away is not only about the speed at which a given form of innovation might produce a return on investment but also that there are many possible ROIs to expect. Moving the needle on the energy and laws stack of the ecosystem ripples out in many ways, unlocking customer awareness, activating new partnerships, nudging your corporate culture out of its complacent comfort zone, etc.  

Understanding this should obviously be an interesting first step toward a proper innovation portfolio strategy. 😎