Wordwatch: 'Over-Innovation'

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Innovators innovate innovations, no? That word is everywhere these days. It's a stand-in for: THAT THING THAT WILL SAVE THE ECONOMY FROM EVERLASTING DOOM. It's seen as an unmitigated good.

At the same time, when you're walking down a grocery store aisle staring at 40 brands of tortilla chips, you want to say, "Actually, maybe there's been enough innovation in the corn chip industry. Time to move on guys. Barring the ability to innovate to the apotheosis of the tortilla chip, we have reached the pinnacle for this salty snack." It's times like that when you realize, there is such a thing as over-innovation.

Similarly, Just-Drinks columnist Richard Woodward makes a hilarious case for over-innovation in the spirits industry.

Take the past few weeks as an example, during which we've heard tell of the launch of, for one, Absolut Gustafson. Eh? Obviously it's a collaboration with Swedish-born and US-based illustrator and artist Mats Gustafson, and it's a vodka flavoured with cherries, strawberries, cardamom and chai (which, I think, is a posh word for tea). Hmmm.

And if that doesn't take your fancy, then how about Absolut Crystal Pinstripe? This homage to the "classic pinstripe fabric" is basically vodka in a fancy bottle with a couple of glasses thrown in. And, it's US$1,500 a pop, unless you want a black version, in which case it's $10,000. No, really...

[R]ecently I've had the idea that things are getting ever so slightly, well, silly. Vintages and special releases have been coming out with the frequency of celebrity-based reality TV shows, and they've now reached their (il)logical conclusion with the impending release of Drakkar (which I seem to remember was the poor man's Old Spice) and "the new collectable series based on the legendary Norse gods". I. Can't. Wait.

Competition is obviously a good thing. But hypercompetition paired with the demand that companies grow in perpetuity seems to drive some companies into a frenzy that produces crazy stuff like... well, Absolut Crystal Pinstripe.

Via @cotton

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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