Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Missing The "Innovation Thing" (Redux)


In 1883, Henry Ford was tinkering with a neighbor’s watch and claimed later to realize that it could be manufactured for as little as thirty cents.  He never bothered to pursue his idea, however, because he concluded that “watches were not universal necessities, and therefore people would generally not buy them.”

Ford was a brilliant entrepreneur but missed “the watch thing.”

IBM was the second most profitable company in the world and probably the smartest technology company when it missed “the desktop thing.”  DEC and Wang were brilliant upstarts that missed the “the personal computer thing.”

Microsoft completely whiffed on "the search thing, “the cloud thing," and, as Steve Ballmer most recently disclosed, the "phone thing."

Eric Schmidt admitted that he and Google had missed on “the friend thing.”

Really smart people and organizations miss really big opportunities, even when those organizations have their eyes wide open and antenna fully extended.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Few Pictures From the Yankee Steam-Up

If you read about the Industrial Revolution, you can't avoid steam.  Newcomen.  Watt.  Corliss.  The good old external combustion engine.

However, if you live in the modern world and just happen to be enrolled in that esteemed class of proletariat known as the "Knowledge Worker," the only steam that you're apt to encounter is that which fogs up the mirror in the bathroom of the hotel on your last business trip.

It's nice, then, when the modern world gets a glimpse of steam in its classic, 19th-century state.  That's what happened this weekend in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, at the New England Wireless and Steam Museum.  It's called the Yankee Steam-Up and it's an annual gathering of engineers, hobbyists, historians, know-nothings and steam engines, large and small.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Founding Fathers as Innovators: Republic 1.0

(Source: uvamagazine.org)
The Founding Fathers play a critically important, sometimes even bizarre role in modern America.  “We want to know what Thomas Jefferson would think of affirmative action,” Gordon Wood writes in his superb Revolutionary Characters, “or George Washington of the invasion of Iraq.”

In many ways this obsession with seeking the blessings of our founders is unique.  We don’t worry, for example, if Henry Ford would endorse our newest manufacturing processes, what Babe Ruth thinks of the designated hitter rule or if Louis Armstrong cares for rap.  Likewise, the French don’t wonder what Charlemagne would say about their current immigration policy just as the British, Wood points out, feel no need to check in periodically with either of the two William Pitts.

WWTJD? Exactly.

So, it’s interesting to reflect on the fact that the Founding Fathers’ greatest accomplishment—beyond their individual achievements with electricity, writing declarations, and winning wars—was constructing their grand experiment in self-government: Republic 1.0.  As political entrepreneurs, Washington and company launched a radical innovation in the global market, ran it for a while, and then handed it over to the next generation of management.

What did they think of the nation they had created?   Were they pleased?  Did Republic 1.0 measure up to their expectations?  Did each die content in his achievement, or, like Victor Frankenstein, aghast at the unintended consequences of the monster they had fashioned?