Skip to content

Flickr Photo by elPadawan

Editor's Note: Maintain

​Is it blasphemy to wonder whether innovation is overrated?

On a recent Freakonomics podcast “In Praise of Maintenance,” host Steven Dubner argues that it might be time to consider the possibility. “There’s not only a need but a certain nobility in taking care of what you’ve already created. And maybe we shouldn’t look at maintenance as the enemy of innovation,” he said.

Dubner refers to “Hail the Maintainers,” a recent article in the online magazine Aeon. Authors Andrew Russell, now dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and Lee Vinsel, assistant professor in science and technology studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, write about the importance of “those individuals whose work keeps ordinary existence going rather than introducing novel things.”

Dubner says that critics who question the promotion of innovation above all else note that what happens after innovation is the more critical piece of the puzzle. Russell and Vinsel agree. “Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labor that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations,” they write.

Russell and Vinsel insist that viewing innovation as an ultimate good is, in the long run, detrimental to civilization at large. “Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility,” they write.

Concentrating solely on innovation to the detriment of maintenance changes attitudes about what is important on a corporate level as well. “Innovation-speak worships at the altar of change, but it rarely asks who benefits, to what end?” write Russell and Vinsel. “A focus on maintenance provides opportunities to ask questions about what we really want out of technologies. What do we really care about? What kind of society do we want to live in? Will this help get us there?”

Security professionals know what type of society they want to live in—one that is safer and more productive. In this month’s cover story, “Metrics and the Maturity Mindset,” Tim Williams, CPP, of Caterpillar, Inc., and Tom Schultz of Ernst & Young discuss a critical aspect of safer workplaces: maintaining the metrics that govern physical security programs. The article illustrates how Caterpillar’s enterprise security team developed mature metrics that not only reflect the company’s specific needs, but also indicate what factors the team decides are indicators of success.

Maybe innovation is not so much overrated as it is unbalanced. Main-tenance is what happens to innovation when it grows up. Using metrics is the best way to gauge how that maintenance is succeeding in supporting the original innovation. Finding an equilibrium between innovation and maintenance might be the ultimate goal.