I was watching Microsoft COO Kevin Turner speak about all the innovation Microsoft has coming out this year, Office 365, Skype, Visual Studio, XBox One, Surface Tablets, Windows Phone, Bing etc ..In reality, in saying it, he was confusing products with innovation, but who knows maybe Bing, Skype, Office 365, Surface Tablets, Windows Phone etc’.have some features in them that will be considered innovative. In KT’s defense and the one exception may be Xbox one, which has done in the past innovative things, like Kinect. But maybe this goes to my post a couple of weeks ago on Apple (Apple is Dull). In the Apple 5s and 5c we have cool devices. Are they innovative? Short answer: No. Are they successful? They sold over 9 million devices in a weekend. Short answer is innovation does not equal success. My fundamental question would be, “What is innovation?” What does it take to push the bar higher. Here are some of my thoughts on this most important subject.
If history has taught us anything it is that the greatest innovations often do not mean success. It does not mean that those who innovated were failures. In many instances they are legends. But often it takes others to fulfill their greatness. As much as Steve Jobs loved to rail against Microsoft’s inability to innovate he nor Woz had much to do with the GUI that made the Macintosh breakthrough technology.. That work was done over at Xerox Parc labs. As written in Jobs biography (I highly recommend), it was during a visit that this piece of innovation caught his attention and imagination. As much as one person fought against selling this technology to Apple, Steve prevailed and the rest is history. Where Apple did innovate was popular devices such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Were they the first in any of these categories? No. They just created a user experience that was fundamentally better and then created an ecosystem around those devices in iTunes and applications.
When I think of what Kevin mentioned, though the products may be improvements, in fact they may even be significant improvements, but are they transformative? Do they fundamentally alter and improve the experience that I had before? I guess it is time we make the ground rules for what can be considered innovation and what cannot. From a corporate America standpoint rule number one is you have to be able to monetize your innovation. Apple did not invent the smartphone, but they certainly took the idea and created a transformative experience for all to experience. Anybody who tried to browse the web on a smartphone prior to the release of the iPhone had a very painful experience. It was slow. No one had really figured out the user interface and how to display it properly on the phone (this is where Apple controlling the end to end experience really paid off). We can go further back in time to Microsoft and the release of Windows 95. WIndows 95 was innovative not so much in technology but in price as it created an affordable PC experience that was on par with the superior MacIntosh. It’s important that innovation extend to the masses. Shortly after it was followed by the web browser, Netscape Navigator. This launched the World Wide Web into hundreds of millions of homes. The creation of the web belongs to Tim Berners Lee, but the mass consumption belongs to Marc Andreesen. No one really knew how to monetize it until Google came along with search and search advertising.
There are bigger innovations on the horizon in the pipeline extending from robotics to travel to alternative energy. Areas that will have a significant impact on our economies and in how we live our day-to-day lives. The innovations coming down the pipe will come at a pace faster than anytime in human history (not sure when the future ever really slows down). The only limits on consumption of these innovations will be the human factor. Though what we create will improve significantly in a relatively short amount if time, we as humans have not changed a whole lot in the past two thousand years. Physically the advent of robotics may change us (think Six Million man), certainly the human genome project has extended our knowledge of how we as humans are constructed and work. If I can ravel from Seattle to Sydney in under 2 hours would that be transformative? It would shrink eth world in a heartbeat.
Mot importantly true innovation in the tech sector transforms society in ways yet to be imagined. Many times they happen organically, like Facebook Originally designed for students at Harvard University, it spawned a new way of interacting between people. More than any company it created the concept of social media. As mentioned earlier Xbox Kinect transformed the gaming experience. Twitter pushed social media higher as it became an outlet and voice in the world for Political change in places like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. It will be exciting to see how the next generation of innovation changes society. For all the debate around Obamacare, and for those who believe free markets will solve everything, I can only add that in my view neither your government or your private insurance companies can solve these issues. However I do believe that technology has the ability to create something innovative that will help with self healthcare can offer us a, dare I say, bipartisan way out. One of the biggest costs in healthcare is unnecessary emergency room visits. What if I had a device that could help tell me when I need emergency care and place the call for me?
Innovation is a big challenge and opportunity for companies. It requires bright minds with a different way of thinking about specific problems. Taking the less walked path to new discovery. Every company struggles with it, knowing that if they do not innovate and seize the opportunity before them they could be histories next lesson. In today’s world you see old technologies being thought of in new and different ways. A company called Nest Labs is rethinking the thermostat and smoke detector. Appliances that have not changed a whole lot in the last fifty years. What next? The refrigerator? What would that mean to GE? This is an exciting time in history as technology once confined to the PC is exploding into new territories with a high degree of regularity. Unlike my title it maybe Is not so much a innovators dilemma, but a innovators death threat for those who do not participate.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann October 9, 2013