Heraclitus was wrong about innovation

Heraclitus was wrong when he declared that “the only thing that is constant is change“. Change is no longer a constant, because the rate of change has changed. More importantly, change is not a constant because we have renewed our view of change and innovation. 

Change is not always about making something “new under the sun“. As Gene Hughson has pointed out, in innovation, what was old can easily be new again. Let me give you some examples:

Innovation is Latin

Innovation, of course, comes from Latin Innovare and ultimately from innovo. Innovo means “I renew” and “I restore” and even “I alter”. Today, we would probably say “renovo” when a Roman would have said “innovo”. In this case, Amazon are renewing and restoring brick-and-mortar thus altering their business. Wearables and e-commerce has also been renewed over the last two hundred years but the business logic remains essentially the same.

Looking back a few hundred years, change and innovation were seen as unwise, riskful and even ill-advised. “Let us have no innovation“. The need for a healthy dose of conservatism was much higher in agrarian times. If you do not manage your crops right, you starve.

It was in the aftermath of the second world war that innovation grew to become the popular concept it is today. Nowadays, we proud ourselves on the speed of change. The speed of change is growing exponentially, and we are proudly accepting the challenge.

Innovo innovatio

Can we say then that the biggest innovation is the innovation that has happened to the very concept of innovation itself? No change is bigger then the changes to change itself, right? Just look at how failure has gone from being regrettable to being mandatory. Look at how things have changed from Edison to Musk.

Heraclitus was wrong – change is not a constant

Democritus laughing and Heraclitus weeping, with a globeSource: Engraving by W. Hollar after J. van Vliet after Rembrandt van Rijn via Wellcome via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 4.0

Heraclitus was wrong. Change is not the only constant. Change is not even a constant. Is that why he weeps at this “Madd World”?

I will say it again: Heraclitus was wrong when he declared that “the only thing that is constant is change“. Over the last sixty years or so, our entire conception of change and innovation has changed. Radicalism has become to our time what conservatism was to our forebearers.

A second change of pace

But it is not enough. Those of us who believe in a good society need to get with the innovation game even more. Two recent challenges to the status quo highlight the need for innovation in earnest:

We need to rethink innovation again. These are not problems that will be solved with continuous innovation such as modifying the Luhn algorithm. We will not stop industrialized credit card fraud over a latte in a fail fast innovation workshop. The solutions to these challenges are well known to us. We do not need new invetions. We need to make these old solutions new again. The pace of innovation is too slow. The innovation has slowed to a crawl. We need to make a step change. We need big bet innovation or we will face the same destiny as the Megalodon.

Part of a series

This post is part 30 of the Innovation Series. An ongoing correspondence between me and Gene Hughson. You are welcome to join the conversation on social media, in the comment fields or on your own blog or vlog.

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About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services ...


  1. thanks for bringing back democritus and heraclitus into present. I really enjoy the post, I share some lines about it https://goo.gl/lpPTSz new or renew? I think that the key is adaptability,

  2. Pingback: Learning Organizations: When Wrens Take Down Wolfpacks | Form Follows Function

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