I’m a big Scott Hanselman fan. He runs a (very) successful blog and an increasingly successful podcast, both of which are excellent if you’re in the Microsoft sphere of influence, you need to know about whats happening in the Microsoft sphere of influence, or — frankly — if you’re involved in the software engineering process at all.

In a recent episode of his podcast he called out a link to an article over at Mostly Maths called 8 reasons for re-inventing the wheel as a programmer. You know that old mantra your (and my) professor used to harp on: Don’t re-invent the wheel. Well, Mostly Maths argues that perhaps this isn’t such a good mantra after all.

Give it a read. Don’t worry — I’ll wait here. Okay, back? Great! Interesting wasn’t it?

This got me thinking about innovation in general and made me reflect on my own recent attempt at innovating. What begets a good innovator and how do mantras like these play in to the way we do (or do not) innovate?

Here’s what I think you and I can take from the blog post: We are engineers, yeah? We are in a pretty dogmatic industry. For whatever reason we like imposing rigid structure on our practices and — just maybe — on the way we think. And, don’t forget, we’re engineers so our work is based on engineering principles.

But who can blame us? It’s comfortable. It’s easy. It’s tried-and-true right?

And here’s the kicker — someone has to say this. Well, damn it, it might as well be me.

A lot of us think that if we can emulate Eric Sink‘s practices we can be Eric Sink — or at least have the same success Eric Sink has had. That must be why we follow the old “don’t re-invent the wheel” mantra (as well as a myriad of others) for sure. I know that I’m certainly guilty of this and as an aspiring star-developer I bet you are too.

But good innovators — that is, the ones that make money from their innovations — re-invent the wheel all the time. They just do so within the bounds of their specific needs. Because they push the wheel to it’s limits or, to follow the original article’s theme, because they need a stronger wheel.

Does this perhaps mean that since we don’t have a wheel that needs re-inventing that we aren’t innovating “right?” Maybe. I don’t really know the answer to that, but I’m trying to figure that out.

But what I do know is that by just going along with whatever mantra your professor told you is not going to spell success…unless your professor is really that great :).