Elon Musk has never been particularly shy about, well, anything. He's known for sharing his thoughts about competitors, critics, and the products his companies produce. Sometimes, you might argue, he shares more than he should. However, it's usually worth paying attention to what he has to say.  

On Monday, Musk was onstage at the Satellite 2020 conference and shared his thoughts about the future of innovation. Specifically, Musk said he believes "technology does not automatically improve." 

Sure, that doesn't sound overly profound, until you start to unpack it and realize that most of us do assume that the next version of something will automatically be better than the previous. As Musk points out, however, that's not necessarily the case. In fact, often it's the opposite. New is not always the same as better.

As an example, Musk had a few choice words for Apple, especially when it comes to the iPhone:

I'm an iPhone user, but I think some of the recent software updates have like been not great, certainly feeding into that point. It, like, broke my email system ... which is quite fundamental.

That's a fair assessment.

Musk is likely referring to the release of iOS 13, which was widely criticized as a result of a number of bugs and flaws. In fact, the Department of Defense even encouraged people not to upgrade their devices because of the problems. One of the worst problems related to the Mail app, where the list of messages would show "No Sender" instead of whoever actually sent you the message.

Apple didn't become one of the most valuable companies in the world by making poorly designed products. On the contrary, it has long been known for its product design and the relationship between device and software. Still, even the big guys get it wrong on occasion.

That's because sometimes, in our effort to innovate, we break things--including things that people depend on. The changes you make--even in the name of innovation--have a real impact on your customers' lives.

Obviously, technology improves as a result of the innovation and work done by the people who design and build it. It doesn't just happen on its own. That's an important lesson for every entrepreneur. 

The future of technology depends on the people who build it, and their acknowledgment that innovation doesn't just happen. It requires discipline and a commitment to the overall user experience. That doesn't mean that every innovation will be a home run, but your job is to build something that adds value for your customers.

And, by the way, Musk is right: Breaking email doesn't add value to anything.

Published on: Mar 11, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.