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28 February 2011

Every Project is a Remix

One of my favorite webisodes (episodic web videos) that has come out in the last year is Everything is a Remix. Part 2 was especially inspiring to me... well, it was actually slightly depressing, but it did hit really close to home.

The basic premise of this series is to show how there really isn't anything new in the world and that especially applies to Hollywood movies. That's not to say that the creator of the series dislikes most things produced from Hollywood, just that the makers of movies are always playing off of those who came before them. Even individuals who are thought of as visionary are really just playing to themes of their predecessors (watch all the way to the end of the embedded video to see who I'm referencing).

Part of the way through the video, it occurred to me that most things we do in projects are just remixes as well. Imagine that your organization is starting up a project to install the first ERP system in the company's history. Sounds new, right? Not really. Unless you're writing your own ERP system from the ground up, something that probably isn't very time or cost effective, this exact same system is likely installed with dozens, if not hundreds, of other companies. But even if you are writing your own ERP, its still a remix of what others have done for other ERP systems. Sure, you might be designing one that runs entirely on a smart phone (yet again, something you probably shouldn't do), but you'd hardly be the first to design a piece of financial software for a handheld device.

So its all remix in projects as well, but is this a bad thing? To me, admitting that sounds as if we're saying that there isn't really innovation in what we do with projects. But is that really true?

I think there is innovation, even if just incremental, in how we implement our projects. By remixing our tools, we get better and better development environments, better requirements management repositories and better process analysis suites. We see something that worked really well on a website and figure out a way to add the same concept to our company's internal portal. We are innovating, every day, on a small scale.

What about large-scale innovations? Is this even possible? Google didn't invent the idea of a search engine, they just built one that was better for general inquiries than everyone else. Social networks existed prior to Facebook, but they finally made it cool (and relatively simple) for everyone to use one. Apple didn't invent the smart phone, but they did produce a product that their competitors are still trying to match more than 4 years later.

In the end, I don't know that what we think of as 'large-scale innovation' exists. I begin to wonder if there really is anything truly new under the sun. What do you all think? Is there anything really new being done or is it all just remix?