initial instantiation. Within an
established company, it probably is disruptive of the orderly
method of product development,
manufacture, and development.
It causes strains within the
When I was at Apple, I
watched many innovative
products fail. Badly done? No,
simply ahead of their time. For
example, from 1992 to 1994
Apple developed one of the first
commercial digital cameras,
the Apple Quick Take 100; one of
the very first smart pen-based
computers (the Newton); and
innovative software applications (e.g., CyberDog, Activity
Based Computing, OpenDoc). In
my consulting practice I helped
develop the first digital picture
frame and an extremely high-quality distance education system for MBA courses. All failed.
Were they bad ideas? No. Were
they badly implemented? No.
All were excellent concepts that
were ahead of their time. The
first company to make automobiles in the U.S. failed. The first
commercially sold computer that
used a graphical user interface
and helped develop many of
the ideas now central to today’s
world of computing, the Xerox
Star, failed. The second commercial attempt to use a similar philosophy, the Apple Lisa, failed.
The third attempt, the Apple
Macintosh, almost failed, saved
only by the fortuitous arrival
of desktop publishing with programs such as the MacPublisher
and Aldus PageMaker along with
the development (by Canon) of
low-cost laser printing.
Why did the Macintosh
almost fail? Was the world ready
for the concept? Not really.
Apple didn’t help with its adver-
tising campaign, which snubbed
business as dull, dreary, and
not worthy of a Macintosh. As
a result, a far inferior com-
puter, the IBM PC, running a
command-line, baroque oper-
ating system (MS-DOS), swept
the market. Within Apple itself,
the Macintosh caused huge
internal disruption between
the Lisa, Macintosh, and the
Apple II groups. The Apple II
was where Apple was making its
money: The other groups were
losing money. Internal politics?
innovation is rare.
In any given arena,
it happens only a few
times per decade.
Why? In part
because it is difficult
to invent a new
concept that truly
fits people’s lives
applications, from the silly to
the reasonable. Examine patent
applications over the past century: Most are mundane, many
are silly, and some hint at broad
breakthroughs. New products
arose through the tinkering and
experimenting of inventors. Most
failed. But some were accepted
as people discovered their value.
Often they had to be nurtured,
tamed, modified, but over time,
a small number found their
niche: the technology launched
the products. The products
produced needs. People slowly
adopted the products, experimented with them, discovered
their potential, and as a result,
uncovered needs that had not
even been conceived of before.
These needs, in turn, led to more
changes in the products.
March + April 2010