Tech people love stories about breakthrough innovations—gadgets or technologies that emerge suddenly and take over, like the iPhone or Twitter. Indeed, there’s a whole industry of pundits, investors, and websites trying feverishly to predict the Next New Big Thing. The assumption is that breakthroughs are inherently surprising, so it takes special genius to spot one coming.
But that’s not how innovation really works, if you ask Bill Buxton. A pioneer in computer graphics who is now a principal researcher at Microsoft, he thinks paradigm-busting inventions are easy to see coming because they’re already lying there, close at hand. “Anything that’s going to have an impact over the next decade—that’s going to be a billion-dollar industry—has always already been around for 10 years,” he says. Clive Thompson/Wired.