Standards and Innovation: Are Standards the Ally of Creative Genius?

Posted on May 17th, 2017

Image: amasterphotographer

Can having a routine really free up your mind for more creative pursuits? According to a recently published book titled, Open Standards and the Digital Age: History, Ideology, and Networks, the answer is yes.  

The book, authored by Andrew L. Russell, Assistant Professor of History and Director of the Program in Science & Technology Studies in the College of Arts & Letters, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey, takes readers through an interdisciplinary history of information networks that pays close attention to the modern politics of standardization. The primary focus of the book is on the larger concept of how openness became a foundational value for the networks of the twenty-first century.

In the book, Russell points out that, as counterintuitive as it may seem, by making everyone follow the same rules, more opportunities for innovation actually open up. This isn’t a new theory. Russell quotes Albert Whitney, a leader of the standards movement in the 1920s, who said “standardization saves the human mind and human energies because it can reduce things that are already settled to the level of routine therefore liberating the creative genius.”

Whitney, living in the post World War I era, was witness to the impact of mass production on many industries. However, some industries, such as the construction and fashion industry, did not lend themselves to mass production as easily. These industries understood there were fundamental processes they needed to put in place first before they could unleash creativity and innovation; they needed industry standards. What better way to increase the efficiency of something than to make it routine? This concept still holds true today. Standardization, innovation, and creativity are, and have always been, connected.  

Our friends and affirming partner of the OpenStand principles, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), have developed an excellent six-part series looking at the concepts of the book. We highly recommend you check it out and give the book a read.

You can learn more about Russell’s book here. You’ll benefit from learning how the “rhetoric of openness has flourished — for example, in movements for open government, open source software, and open access publishing — but such rhetoric also obscures the ways the Internet and other ‘open’ systems still depend heavily on hierarchical forms of control”.

Have you read the book? What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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