If Facebook likes existed at the time of Copernicus, he would have been considered a loser, just like he nerds in Revenge of the Nerds. Like them, nobody would have given Copernicus a “like.” But, in the end, Copernicus ended up being right — and the nerds won out. And yet recent press in The Wall Street Journal has indicated children are being taught from a young age to heed likes on Facebook as a proxy for the value of their art work. Is this a good thing for innovation?
As the Copernican revolution shows us, innovation doesn’t always give us answers that make us feel warm and cozy inside in the short term. When Copernicus came out with his theory that the sun — and not the earth — is the center of the universe, he was considered a heretic. That revolution shows us that being ahead of the curve isn’t only lonely — it is sometimes downright unpopular.
No doubt, Steve Jobs felt this way, at times, when he was CEO of Apple. The board of directors thought he was nuts for wanting to put so much time, money, and energy into the design of the personal computer when others in the market, such as IBM, were doing just fine without such bells and whistles. In fact, the board temporarily ousted Jobs for pursuing his idea of making personal computers not only easy to use — but lovely to look at.
Look at where Apple is now.
At the time, Jobs wouldn’t have had any likes on Facebook among the board. And yet he continued. The point isn’t that to be a innovator, you always need to be unpopular. Sometimes thinking of a new great technology product and testing it in the market is the way to go. But, in other cases, it makes sense to trade off short term unpopularity in exchange for a longer term innovative bang.
Giving too much respect to short term popularity on Facebook or on any other social network will have a powerful chilling effect on the next Copernicus — which can kill innovation.