Startups depend on coming up with a better, faster, cheaper way of solving an existing problem. Some startups find an entirely new idea that disrupts the way we think about a problem or market altogether. The drive to do something different, to make something that didn’t exist before, has led pioneers to launch new businesses since before companies existed. Our current, fertile startup environment may be home to more of that activity than any previous period. Innovation itself, however, is hardly unique to today.
Human history has been marked by technological innovation ever since the first hominid stood up and figured out how to use a stone to knock a rabbit unconscious. From digging tools to plows, pottery to smartphones, the human story has been about attempts to use technology to tailor the world to meet our needs and to relieve the burden of manual labor. Innovation is simply part of human nature and has been from the beginning. Technological innovation may be moving faster now than ever before but we’re not the first generation to live through a technological paradigm shift.
Innovation has been so fundamental to the course of human history that it has provided the names we use to demarcate certain stages. We have the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages in addition to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. The term “Stone Age” today is synonymous with “primitive,” but can you imagine what a huge leap in innovation it was at the time? Starting about three and a half million years ago and ending a few thousand years BCE (depending on what part of the world we’re talking about), this period took humanity from rocks shaped into basic cutting tools through the mortar and pestle and other agricultural tools.