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The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun

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Innovations are unpredictable (DDT, automobiles, and the Internet)

An illustrative tale of the challenge of goodness starts with a mix of chemicals, a Swiss scientist, and hordes of disease-carrying insects. In 1948, to the despair of mosquitoes everywhere, Paul Muller recognized the bug-killing properties of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, commonly known as DDT. This chemical was the first true pesticide in history and was used in enormous quantities during WWII to control the spread of typhus and malaria. It was so successful that in 1955 the World Health Organization (WHO) proudly armed with DDT, planned to eliminate malaria from the planet. The belief was that DDT's supreme potency, lasting for years in soil and weeks in water, could permanently eliminate disease-carrying insects in infested areas.

But the WHO soon observed strange things in places where DDT was used. Scientists realized that this new chemical had unexpected and complex collateral effects. The story went like this:

The mosquitoes were effectively eliminated; however roaches, less sensitive to DDT, survived, absorbing the poison. Small lizards happily ate the roaches. Those lizards developed nerve damage from the DDT (providing the widowed roaches with bittersweet glee), who, in their slow, near-drunken stupor, were easily consumed en masse by the local cat population. The cats, more sensitive to the DDT than the lizards, died by the thousands, opening the door for an explosion in the rat population. And the ...

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