If you want a great understanding of how innovation happens, and how it borrows, adapts, and expands on other (often unrelated) innovations, check out the fascinating and enjoyable BBC series "Connections" (1978/1979) hosted by James Burke: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connections_(TV_series). Innovation is not linear, not predictable, and does not follow a "road map".
n my opinion the WHEEL is one of the greatest innovations of all time as it is the WHEEL that set the whole humanity in motion.
In today's world some of the importance of the wheel has been taken away by modern communications which have made a lot of tasks to be done sitting at home but otherwise the life on this earth would have been much different without this WHEEL.
May be without wheels the whole of humanity would have habitats on the seas because that is the only place where you move without wheels
A reader named Roxy emailed these comments: I had to answer your question about the innovation of 1100's compared to today. If we could be half as creative we would still be lucky. I can't imagine memorizing drawings from sand pits or tables and working toward an image that has never been seen, and wich may not be completed in your life time. It never occurred to me that any on those earlier buildings fell down because of design flaws. In my ignorance I didn't realize the ones that remain are only the success stories, explained as being "right in God's eyes". Considering that most of the work force were illiterate and work conditions were brutal the whole building process must have been a challenge to organize and keep on track.
The craftsmen made their own tools and often invented new ones as needed, we would never be able to match the skill, dedication, and work ethic of the time.
And when asked about favorite innovation from the book...
It's been some time since I read either of the books but I would have to agree that the single most dramatic or at least the most significant innovation was the flying buttress. Although seeing those very high stone walls with wonderous images in stained glass and light are still very impressive today, it must have been very awe inspiring to the local peasants.