“Chop off his ears!” In the 21st century innovators are lionised. In the 17th century innovators were mutilated.
A century earlier in 1548, at the tender age of 10, Edward VI, King of England (and son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour – now there’s some family baggage), issued ‘A Proclamation Against Those That Doeth Innovate’ that promised the indignation of the king, imprisonment and grievous punishment.
As religious change swept England, puritans took umbrage. Innovation was considered the unwelcome realm of the unorthodox, of deviants, of transgressors of norms. Anti-innovation sentiment reached its zenith in 1636 when an English minister, Henry Burton, invoked the words of Edward VI (who died at just 15) and accused the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, of innovating in matters of doctrine and discipline. And then comes the twist. Burton was accused of innovating himself, landed in jail and lost his ears for his efforts.
Right up until the mid-19th century innovation was considered malevolent. It was not until the 20th century that innovation went from vice to virtue, and innovators from heretics to heroes. All this can be found in a fascinating paper, ‘Meddle Not With Them That Are Given to Change’: Innovation as Evil, by Canadian academic Benoît Godin.
Now here we are in 2020. A year that will forever be synonymous with a pandemic. A year that has changed the way we live and work. A year that really calls for innovation.
We hope you enjoy our Innovation Issue (and our new look!). Such is the lead time of magazines that as I write this column, the pandemic is escalating in Victoria and there are worrying clusters in NSW. Wherever you are, take care and stay safe.