I have always wondered whether all new inventions, concepts and ideas have existed before at some abstracted level. Philosophically speaking, I believe that is the case. In innovation, we have tried to mimic evolution, adopting the lessons from nature's selection processes, resulting in successful gains. Perhaps one day understanding punctuated equilibrium and replicating it will start to help us bring about the true breakthroughs desperately needed within innovation.
My points above seem to find validation in The Economist's article (in the Technology Quarterly) talking about evolutionary algorithms being used to "evolve" ideas, methods and even existing patents to create something new. Of course, "new" here takes on subjectivity.
Here is an excerpt that caught my attention... it touches on another topic I will discuss in my blogs - Patents.
"... the most cunning use of an evolutionary algorithm, though, is by Dr Koza himself. His team at Stanford developed a Wi-Fi antenna for a client who did not want to pay a patent-licence fee to Cisco Systems. The team fed the algorithm as much data as they could from the Cisco patent and told the software to design around it. It succeeded in doing so. The result is a design that does not infringe Cisco's patent—and is more efficient to boot."
I see an interesting future here!