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The Innovation Delusion : How Our Obsession with the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most - Lee Vinsel

The Innovation Delusion

How Our Obsession with the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most

By: Lee Vinsel, Andrew L. Russell

Hardcover | 8 September 2020

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Innovation is the hottest buzzword in business. But what if its benefits has been exaggerated, and our obsession with finding the next big thing has distracted us from the work that matters most?

It's hard to avoid innovation these days. Nearly every product gets marketed as being disruptive, whether it's a new technology or a new toothbrush. But in this manifesto on the state of American work, historians of technology Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell argue that our focus on shiny new things has made us poorer, less safe, and ironically less innovative.

Drawing on years of original research and reporting, Russell and Vinsel show how our fixation on innovation has harmed every corner of the economy. Corporations have spent millions hiring chief innovation officers while their core businesses tanked. Computer science programs have focused on programming and development even though the overwhelming majority of jobs are in IT and maintenance. Suburban sprawl has saddled cities with expensive infrastructure and piles of deferred maintenance that they can't afford to fix. And sometimes, innovation even kills--like in 2018, when a Miami bridge hailed for its innovative design collapsed onto a highway and killed six people.

Vinsel and Russell tell the at-times humorous, at-times alarming story of how we devalued the work that keeps our world going--and in so doing, wrecked our economy, left our public infrastructure derelict, and lined the pockets of consultants who combine the ego of Silicon Valley with the worst of Wall Street's greed. They offer a compelling plan for how we can shift our focus in resources away from the pursuit of growth at all costs, and back toward the people and technologies underpinning so much of modern life.

For anyone concerned by the crumbling state of our roads, bridges, and airports, and the direction our economy is headed, The Innovation Delusion is a deeply necessary re-evaluation of a trend we can still disrupt.

About the Author

Andrew Russell is a professor of history and the dean of arts and sciences at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Lee Vinsel is a professor in the department of science, technology, and society at Virginia Tech. Together, they are the founders of the Maintainers Conference and research network, and their writing on the topic has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Washington Post, and Wired.
Industry Reviews
"The authors' most emphatic recommendations involve talent-and our perception of it. When we overvalue innovation, they say, we forget that the vast majority of engineers will wind up maintaining existing systems, not coming up with the next Facebook. [The] authors' emphasis on maintenance resonates, and their take-down of innovation theater feels well-deserved."-The Wall Street Journal

"These last few months [of 2020] have been costly, but they've shown us that we can, individually and collectively, change how we work more rapidly than we ever imagined; revealed the importance of essential workers and maintainers; and given us a glimpse of a future that could be radically different-more prosperous, better maintained, and more sustainable-from the world we left this spring. Vinsel and Russell have given us a modest manifesto for building that world."-Los Angeles Review of Books

"[Challenges] us to ask an urgent question: what if we invested as much in maintenance, care, and upkeep as we do in growth, change, and disruption?"-Adam Grant, "The Fall Idea Books to Teach You Something New"

"There's nothing quite like a pandemic to reveal how much a society relies on maintainers. The Innovation Delusion offers a vital wake-up call. Stirring, sobering, and brilliantly composed, this book is a must-read for everyone who longs for a radical reinvestment in what matters most."-Ruha Benjamin, professor at Princeton University and author of Race After Technology

"Lee Vinsel and Andrew L. Russell have taken on one of the tech industry's sacred cows, showing how the chase for the next big thing has harmed countless businesses, left our roads and bridges in a state of neglect, and drained support for the essential workers who keep society going. By equal turns alarming and empowering, The Innovation Delusion is a send-up of Silicon Valley's empty promises and a much needed plea for sanity in how we think about technology, profit, and work."-Dan Lyons, bestselling author of Disrupted and Lab Rats

"Vibrant, sure-footed . . . The authors guide readers with clear and contemporary examples of when deferred maintenance led to either slow or fast disaster. . . . The authors also thoroughly expose the unjust hierarchy that leaves maintenance workers at the bottom of the pay scale. . . . A refreshing, cogently argued book that will hopefully make the rounds at Facebook, Google, Apple et al."-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[A] resounding call for sane business growth. Readers will come away from Vinsel and Russell's urgent and illuminating primer with a new perspective on the importance of maintenance as well as innovation in business."-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"In this caring ode to the ordinary grit of maintenance, Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell light a brilliant bonfire of the vanities from carefree innovation-speak. We should upkeep their message, and repair our corporations, communities, and consciousness. This book is more than a conversation starter-it's a course correction."-Guru Madhavan, Norman R. Augustine Senior Scholar and director of programs at the National Academy of Engineering, and author of Applied Minds: How Engineers Think

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