A brilliant lecture: The Myths of Innovation; or, how "innovation is much more about sociology than technology"

Right now I’m researching the story of how zoom lenses were implemented in early post-war American television, and how they played more than a small part in determining how early TV looked, and how post-war TV was regarded by opinion-makers.

You’ll have to stay tuned for details of that stuff. I haven’t finished researching it yet.

Zoom lenses in early American television are part of a longer innovation story. In fact they go right to the heart of questions about how best to assess the ‘New Hollywood’ of the 1970s (as inhabited by Altman, Penn, Mulligan, etc). What a lot of the literature says is that if you want to understand the ‘new’ Hollywood cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, it’s best look to the European cinema of the 1950s and 1960s.

This message is further concentrated when it comes to the zoom lens. European directors used them in the 1950s and 1960s, and Hollywood directors used them in the 1960s and 1970s. So Europe must have influenced Hollywood. Post zoom ergo propter zoom; case closed.

It’s true enough that you can find lots of zoom shots in the European new wave films. Rossellini is often singled out as being particularly fond of the zoom. But it’s also true that the dominant zoom lens in the USA, from the mid 1940s to the end of the 1950s, was not the European Pan-Cinor, but the American Zoomar.

And where did many of the directors of the new Hollywood come from? Many cut their teeth in television, where if they’d used a zoom lens at all, they’d most likely used a Zoomar. Those who didn’t work in television probably grew up watching it. What I’m trying to do right now is understand how best to square that circle, because clearly Rossellini doesn’t hold all of the answers.

  • The video embedded below is a lecture, by Scott Berkun, about innovation. It’s somewhat targetted at people who want to be innovators, but it’s a great start towards thinking about, studying, and researching innovation. He’s a very engaging and energetic speaker.

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