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Creative destruction, he says… December 5, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Do others feel similarly sceptical to myself in regard to this from David McWilliams. Writing about the (slightly) fading fortunes of Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Netflix who have collectively lost $1tn in value he suggests a comparison with Nokia which in 2007, just 11 years ago, was worth $150bn in value but only a few years later was sold for $7bn.

What happened?

Put simply, these world-beating companies were overtaken. This constant churn and relentless innovation whereby one company powers ahead only to be assailed by a more innovative competitor, is what the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter described as the “perennial gale of creative destruction”.
Creative destruction is the essence of capitalism but it is also the core of innovation in the arts, literature and music. In fact, anywhere that creativity is valued, creative destruction is the force that propels individuals to greater and greater feats of innovation.

Creative destruction – eh? Or perhaps technological innovation, which is a little less exciting a term. Though that doesn’t stop McWilliams who announces that:

This is why the eclipse of once great companies is not too dissimilar to the ebb and flow of great artists, directors, writers. When an artist is going through what is often termed a “purple patch”, he or she is being more creative than all the rest. Typically this lasts a while and then they are overtaken by someone more creative who comes up with something new, a new storyline, a new melody or a better insight that resonates – and off we go again.

Now some of us might think that a more prosaic explanation would be that Apple, in particular, offered an alternative to Nokia phones (and Blackberry too), in the shape of the touch-screen smart phone that was an inevitable, or near-inevitable, technological development and one that once available at prices that allowed for mass sales swiftly overtook all others, and forced rivals to produce their own similar products. One can indeed say there’s a creative aspect to this, but whether this is ‘art’ or even entirely analogous is a different question – for a start the comparison breaks down entirely in relation to how artistic works or artefacts function – being one-off pieces (almost exclusively) produced for limited markets, and with limited spread beyond them. Movements in art while reifying innovation don’t follow the same trajectory as those in technology – and it’s worth keeping in mind that in the context of post-modernism retrospection is a key element of artistic endeavour.

He ropes in authors as well suggesting that one writer will impel others to ‘greater imaginative feats’ and how the economy works in a similar fashion. But again, RyanAir (which he mentions) is not exactly similar to Sally Rooney (who he also mentions).

Arguably a better comparison might be visual communications given that it is involved in mass production and material culture, and yes, designers in particular are driven/ride along with technological innovation in regard to computers and apps – but even there retrospection has largely stepped in as the experimentation of the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s with the forms and constraints of then technology (and look at April Greiman and David Carson and those who came after for a sense of that). And again it’s not exactly the same. I’ll bet, and this is no reflection on anyone in this position, that most here don’t know those names directly above – the designers are a step or two or three back. And their link to products or institutions or entities is near anonymous. Apple is not the same as a designer, or an author. It can’t be, by definition.

And the problems a tech company faces are not the same – the definition of creativity is stretched too in the laboured comparison he offers.

There’s a much duller reality, that yes, technological change – primarily – drives companies and corporations and that an innovation can, in certain circumstances, be enough to secure the medium term future of one and sink another. But there’s another reality that is equally dull which is that of mature technologies. One does not expect a new sort of kettle every year or two, boasting ever greater innovations, because a kettle, as a simple, straight-forward and mature device is probably about as good as it can be. Always room for improvement, but those improvements are marginal. In a sense the smartphone, or the computer, is moving towards a similar point, if indeed it hasn’t arrived. The next iteration will either be so different as to mark a completely different sort of technology as to present a genuine rupture, or it will be essentially a further refinement of technologies that are already pretty refined. I don’t bet but I’d think it most likely the latter.

None of which is to say that smartphones are perfect. Quite the opposite. The atrocious issues of battery life, sustainability, etc all weigh heavily. But that sort of innovation I suspect isn’t what McWilliams is talking about.

Comments»

1. Daire O'Criodain - December 5, 2018

I’ve said it before but the D McW articles for IT show all the signs of having been tossed off down the pub in a spare half hour. If the FAANG stocks had collectively risen by 20% over the previous few weeks, an equally generic narrative explanation would have taken as long and as much thought to script.

As you have presented a peg on which to hang the point, as the letter to the editor might say: “Am I alone” in thinking that Sally Rooney’s Normal People is highly overrated. Readable it is, but as diversionary beach stuff rather than slow cooking high literary merit. Its a literary “When Harry Met Sally” soap opera of on again, off again (transitions largely due to miscommunication or lack of communication in a specific moment) with “serious” topics like mental health and female self-esteem stitched in to give a veneer of depth. Impossible to summon up any interest in or empathy with the fate of the two main characters. Rant over.

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Pasionario - December 6, 2018

Even if we were to be more charitable towards Rooney, it’s a useless example of literary “creative destruction” because her style and themes are fundamentally traditional.

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2. CL - December 5, 2018

‘Creative Destruction’ was a phrase coined by Schumpeter, but he derived it from Marx’s ideas about how capital constantly revolutionizes the means of production.

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3. soubresauts - December 5, 2018

We can speculate about Apple’s future technological “refinement”, but the current disturbing reality is that Apple aims to curb free speech. Independent reporter Luke Rudkowski tells it like it is:

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