Sitting outside around a pit-fire enjoying an early fall feast, a group of us realized that business books were oftentimes long on advice but short on data. They’d reference studies of 50 companies, 70 companies, 150 companies, but they’d never list the businesses.
Consultants were no better, offering pages of PowerPoint with no real substance.
Business school academics might cite a few cases but we couldn’t find any who created a comprehensive published list of businesses they derived insight from.
As the night wore on and the bottles of wine turned to a questionably legal Absynthe, the thought kept nagging at us.
Real-world impact based on major innovation matters a great deal.
Doctors don’t list the patients in their studies for privacy reasons but somebody besides the authors know who the patients are and, besides, a doctor who fabricated the information would lose their license. Law school professors sometimes list their cases or causes and, when they don’t, there is attorney-client privilege: they’re literally forbidden to by law.
Consultants and business school professors suffer virtually none of these constraints. They might be forbidden from writing about a project they worked on via non-disclosure agreement (NDA). We’re forbidden from talking about the vast majority of our work for exactly this reason.
Yet our work is only a small subset of our knowledge. Studies of patterns of innovation over time need not and should not be secret.
One-off cases a consultant or academic was involved in are interesting but, while it may make for an insightful anecdote, a sample size of one is all but useless to draw any meaningful conclusion.
Feeling warm and full, with green fairies and fireflies buzzing around, we committed to solving this problem. To building a list of major innovations over time, writing a short but accurate blurb about each, and publishing the whole megillah. From that, we could draw meaningful insights backed by citable observations.
The next morning, happy but vaguely hungover, something odd happened: we had more passion for the project than the night before. We researched and, sure enough, there were a limited number of lists of innovations but they were constrained to a time era or geography. None created a continuum or searched for patterns. Furthermore, the vast majority of business books simply asserted these lists existed, unpublished somewhere, and the authors should simply be trusted.
How hard could it be to create a list of major innovations from, say, the printing press to today and write brief entries on each, we wondered? A week? Maybe a month? So we set about doing just that. It’s been years collecting, reviewing, and analyzing thousands of major innovations.
Wikipedia entries were sometimes useful but oftentimes wrong and tended to ramble on. Initially, we tried correcting the Wikipedia entries but “editors” — with questionable agendas (ex; insisting their own country played an outsized role when every historic text suggested otherwise) — made the going too slow.
Instead, we started writing into a large Word document. That proved difficult to scale to our increasing number of contributors so we transitioned it to WordPress.
We write under the name of our founding member, Ruby Day, though at this point there are a sizable number of us. Our entries are not finished but they’re good enough for the world to see and think about and challenge. We’ve only just begun to publish our insights.
If you’d like to join us, please let us know. All contributors are anonymous. We’re not out to make or break a reputation, only to find and disseminate the truth.
If you want to use our work in a classroom or consulting practice, go ahead but please attribute it. Consultants are welcome, especially those who wish to cite verifiable facts rather than spouting off long lists of mush. If you’re looking for a consultant involved in this project, please let us know. We are not a consulting firm and we believe it would be a conflict-of-interest to be a consulting firm and do this type of work. However, we do work with a number of high-quality consultants we can refer you to.