Tidal Waves create Innovation

In my last blog I talked about innovation. Which got me thinking again. I apologize that I again will reference Microsoft, but as it is my heritage and a relevant point of reference I shall go there again.  When we look at the big misses at Microsoft over the last decade it’s easy to say they got clocked by Apple and the iPhone. That they missed on the tablet.  But as I alluded to innovation is not often in the product unless you are there first.  Ballmer said his biggest regret was Vista. But in my humble opinion the bigger miss was not understanding a technology movement that was under way and envisioning how big the possibilities could be.   More than anything it was the inability to truly understand mobility that killed Microsoft,. In short they never did think big enough.

In any big shift there is a movement that occurs and then there are the innovators who take advantage of the movement.  In the early phases of the PC industry, the movement was the idea of a personal computer.  There where may companies who innovated based on this movement.  Intel created the microprocessor that powered the PC.  Microsoft jumped on the operating system with DOS and then Windows.  More than any company Microsoft understood the value of the software that created the experience for the PC.  Give Intuit credit for changing how we did our taxes. There where hardware manufacturers that popped up all over the place, like Gateway, Dell and Compaq.  There was a lot going on in the space and the competition was brutal.  It created a lot of wealth and a very affluent younger generation, who profited on this tidal wave.

These grand movements would continue with the birth (or maybe re-birth) of the internet.  As companies moved in force to get online and establish a presence in a global virtual real estate play with the creation of a website.  This again would drive innovators to start creating new opportunities along with new business models.  A second movement that coincided with the internet was the rise of mobility.  More accurately mobility was about freedom.  The ability to have access to our technology but not be connected to a wall.  Underlying all this was digital convergence as everything we had known from our music tour television and film, books, catalogs etc….  was being digitized.  I could access all this content from my PC, laptop or smartphone.  A new are is the cloud, which  in my opinion is not a new tidal wave, but more innovation built on the back of the internet.  All in all, these movements have fundamentally changed how we all lived and worked.

The list of examples of companies who rode these grand movements to success is a list of small companies who have become tech giants, with the exception of Apple, which made a grand comeback.  In the internet Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Netflix etc.. are but a few examples of companies that leveraged this new medium.  In many instance mobility created an expanded market and new opportunities.  In the case of Twitter it helped them become a global beacon of democracy and human rights.  Mobility projected Google and Apple to new heights as they drove new devices to new sales models.  For Google they used Android (and iOS) to extend the reach of their search engine.  There were companies that burned brightly only to fade, i.e. RIM and Nokia

If I look around the industry and try to predict the next industry movement, my eyes and ears always gaze to robotics.  There is a lot of work being done today that is far more advanced than anything we have seen before and in some cases hearkens to our favorite science fiction novels, film and television series.  If you take Google’s foray into robotic vehicles, it is visionary while making sense.  If you have a robotic car and you need to go somewhere, what is the first thing you will need to do? You will need to give it directions, “Bing” (not intended use of Bing but funny in any case), who makes great mapping technology?  More importantly it takes the most dangerous piece of driving out the equation, humans.  This is but one example of something that will come to pass.  Prosthetic’s will move from plastics and metals to having intelligence and a more human like appearance.  Anyone remember Steve Austin, aka the Six Million Dollar Man? I think robotics will combine all three of the previous tidal waves while creating a new one that removes humans from a number of traditional equations.  These movements do not happen without consequences.  It will be interesting as robotics evolves to see how it will impact the movement of labor.  If a robot is picking our apples will we have need of cheap labor?  Robotics will take off and have a bigger impact than mobility or the internet, as it is physical in nature, not virtual.

The excitement and disaster of these “big” movements is they are like tidal waves.  If you catch the wave early on you can ride the wave to extreme success.  However if you are late the wave you risk catching it as it crests and comes thundering down on you.  For the start-up these sometimes seem obvious as many gamble on the next big thing. Youth Is rampant in this area and like so many young generations they are more idealistic and dream of a bigger and brighter world, ignorant of the consequences, but driven none the less. For the incumbents that challenge is often much more daunting.  They may have been part of an earlier movement that still drives big revenues but makes them blind to the future, until they find themselves on the crest of the wave, looking down in horror at what has befallen them.

These changes are what makes the world today so exciting as when these “tidal waves” occur it has a material and social impact across the globe.  If you think about how internet has brought us all closer together and made communications across boards easier than they ever have been through out the history of mankind.  When these changes occur, for companies in the tech space and across other industries it is important to bet early and often, if one is to survive.  They come very fast and with great velocity, that those who do not anticipate quickly, they become a legacy to history, they become yesterday’s news.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann October 24, 2013

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