You only need to look at the success of television programmes such as Dragons Den to see the mad inventor trait us Brits are known for is still alive and well. The majority of us probably have a handful of ‘invention’ ideas in our mind and some will try and make those happen.
Every business wants to be new and different, and too many want to be business-people (and some already successful business people) equate innovation with novelty. Too many people think that something new or something that nobody else offers will be the springboard they need to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
Yet, take a look at history and business successes (especially the biggest phenomena in technology) and being new isn’t what it is all about. Being better is. In fact sometimes new can be your downfall as people see it as untried and untested and are more difficult to convince. Consider three of the biggest success stories in recent years:
Nintendo released its first gaming machine The Famicom on 15 July 1983 in Japan. By the end of 1984 it had sold over 2.5 million units. Yet they didn’t invent the video game, others had been doing it for a few years and in fact the gaming market in the early 1980s was beginning to decline but Nintendo spotted where they could improve on the existing offerings and they brought the market back to life and the industry hasn’t looked back with several manufacturers re-inventing the market now on a regular basis.
In fact Nintendo as a company had been around for nearly a century before it even embarked on video gaming, having begin as a playing card manufacturer and been the name behind a series of ventures including a taxi firm, a hotel chain and TV network. They re-invented the company as well as the products they took to market.
Apple was also one of the last to the MP3 game. Neither did they invent the graphical user interface, touchscreen technology or the smartphone, yet mention any of those terms and their name will come up in conversation probably 9/10 times. What Apple did do is follow breaking technology.
One British scientist Kane Kramer is held up to have designed one of the first digital audio players way back in 1979. His IXI prototype for digital audio playback never entered commercial production and he didn’t file his patent until 1981 and despite investment from notable music industry people it wasn’t until 1986 that it even appeared at a trade fair.
Following lapse of the patent protection in the late 1980′s Kramer’s ‘novelty’ had worn off and it was still another ten years or so before other manufacturers began to move into mainstream MP3 player production, although the first Apple iPod still didn’t arrive until later 2001. Since then though Apple have pretty much dominated with iPods, iPhones, iPads and iMacs dominating the market for people looking for MP3 playing functionality, while the iTunes store also dominates the field in terms of how to obtain MP3s.
Equally, Google didn’t invent the search engine. Some us remember the dominant days of AltaVista, WebCrawler and this bloggger even worked on the early success story that was UKPlus, the search engine where every site was individually assessed and reviewed by a trained journalist before being listed in the directory (yes the internet really was that small once).
What Google did was transform the way search worked and also how the database collated and organised. In fact as this year has shown Google is still re-inventing search, still transforming it and aiming to make it better. Google is a re-inventor despite being seen by many – possibly because of its Google Labs projects – as an innovator. Even the selling of keywords linked to advertising wasn’t new to Google. GoTo.com, later becoming Overture and then part of the Yahoo network were already doing a similar thing. Google just saw the potential and took it the next step and beyond.
So remember newer isn’t better. Better is better and instead of re-inventing the wheel, making everything better has far more chance of being successful. Yes, there can be much Kudos for inventing something revolutionary, but it is not always the case. Admit it, how many of you had heard of Kane Kramer before you read this blog? Yet, I bet most of you have already listened to a digital audio file at least once today.