Aside

The Valley depends on your Innovation!

Fred Smith. Know his name? Likely not, but he’s the founder and CEO of FedEx. The innovator who changed the concept of package delivery in our lifetime. When he came up with the idea of FedEx, he “borrowed” it from a different industry. Since telecommunications and banking both applied a hub and spoke system of dissemination, he thought that could be applied to delivery services to increase speed and efficiency and enable a new business concept. And you know what his undergraduate professor thought of this “innovation? ” Not much. He got a “C” and a bad peer review.
It’s patriotic
The Valley’s growth is based on continuous innovation. Heck, this country’s growth is based on innovation. So creating new ideas and manifesting them into reality is critical to our careers, our companies and the communities in which we live. I spoke on this topic at a conference, Leading in the Digital Age, in Las Vegas last month. (It was so popular that I’ve been asked to do a repeat presentation in Santa Clara at the WITI conference in the Fall.)
The reason Fred Smith is a great example of innovation is because he created something new from something established. An idea can arise from anything, of course. It can be a method, a device, an industry. But what’s important to note is that it typically builds on something. Think of electricity and Ben Franklin’s experiments with a kite and key. The idea of light and power (candles and coal burning) already existed in his day and age. He simply advanced the idea.
Fred Smith has said, “Even we didn’t know what we were creating.” And certainly no one showed up to pat him on the back right away. It took some perseverance.
Stubbornness and contrarianism are good, really!
In a similar vein, the guy who invented Post It’s at 3M was turned down so many times that he nearly gave up. 3M did a market size for the Post-it product and showed a TAM (total available market) of $750,000. Think about that. If someone had asked you if you needed a sticky piece of paper, what would your answer have been back then? And who could have predicted that sometimes we need hot turquoise-colored little sticky notes? Post-its evolved from an inventor who needed a bookmark that wouldn’t fall out during choir practice but also wouldn’t mark the page since it wasn’t his material.
Being contrary seems to be one great source of innovation. My favorite example: Dell got created and really achieved success during a time when price wars were constant and no one (and I really mean NO ONE) thought you could make money on hardware. Michael Dell infamously said, “I figured I would do just the opposite thing that everyone was else was doing so that context worked in my benefit.” He also notes that no one believed in him except himself. Good thing. He lowered the price point of PCs permanently for all of us.
Did you know that Apple’s infamous mouse was originally invented in 1963? Records show that it was displayed at conference in San Francisco in 1968. But no one thought it had any value. It was considered–get this– too simple. So then it was “reinvented” 20 years later by a company that recognized its value to ease of use.
People can’t resist better solutions
And, if I haven’t given you enough examples, here’s my final one. Just to add variety I’ll do a completely non-technology-oriented one. Burton’s snowboards prove to me that sometimes–almost all the time–innovation is “just” refinement. A wooden platform of two skis has been around since the 1920s. “But I had no idea then when I created a one board answer, it would become popular. I found a shortcoming in the current solution, and a market interest,” said Burton. And the lesson here is that if the original product is a hassle for people, they’ll fork over money for a better solution.
Clearly, it’s not always about the “thinking out of the box” idea. It’s about building on an existing concept, doing a more elegant solution, serving a new demand, and providing existing customers with more. Don’t always believe the standard mass market ‘research,’ but find a unique group of people who have a problem and could use your solution. And then define that market to make it yours. Rubicon now has a series of proven methodologies we’ve been building to make this a cost efficient, fast process so we can enable early innovators to win. If you want to learn more about it, just let me know. You can use the methods before your competitor does.

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