Innovation Part II

We need to get over our obsession with innovation. It’s hurting our ability to do good development work. We get caught up in trendy new ideas – we fondle the hammer – and we exhaust out energies looking for the next big thing instead of supporting interventions which have been proven to work.

Innovation is not a quick fix. It is not a magic bullet that will solve all our problems. Social media is a genuine innovation (as Our Man in Cameroon points out), but it has rules and best practices. It takes time and skill to learn to use it well. Antibiotics were an innovation in their time, but they too had to be perfected and properly used before they could save lives.

When I lived in Cairo, people on the street used to talk about Japanese engineers. Everyone was sure that the Japanese government was about to build a new sewer system, repave the roads, or extend the subway. I lived in Egypt ten years ago. Cairenes are still waiting for their Japanese metro.

Chasing innovation too often leads us astray, when we could be plugging along at the things that have been proven to work. Those things do exist. Girls’ education. Microfinance. Contraception. We need innovation; it’s true. But it’s not all we need.