Well, it’s a fair question. Note that none of these three famous innovators were inventors like Thomas Edison, but visionaries who find a new marketplace or niche – or how to reach the mass market in new ways.
Leaders and companies that innovate new products, services and methods of delivery are the ones that stand out in a crowded business world, especially when attempting to gain recognition among the throngs of competitors visible on the web.
Innovation is valued by our society, by investors and certainly by consumers. It is the focus for state and federal governments worldwide, many finding ways to reward innovators with tax incentives or investors with tax credits to finance innovative new enterprises.
As a keynote speaker, I often start presentations that start with a short history of innovation in the United States, using the twist of examining innovation through the lens of 150 years of cyclic bursts of bubbles, leading to subsequent recessions and depressions. It is not hard to find strands of gold in the carnage left by failed businesses lost when a bubble bursts, such as in 1857, 1902, 1929, 2001 and 2008.
[Email readers, continue here…] Innovators make use of golden strands of opportunity left when the unfinished vision of another cries for completion, or when a genuine new concept changes the very way people think about their lives.
Leonard Kleinrock and a few of his UCLA computer lab students worked to send the first several text characters from UCLA to Stanford in 1969 over a direct line established for the test. They could send only the “LO” of “LOGON” before recording the very first crash of the Internet. And I’m sure they had no idea what they were fathering with that effort which eventually became ARPANET, and then of course, the Internet itself. They had no mantra, and a limited vision to connect mainframe computers to share academic information.
How many entrepreneurs used that new Internet infrastructure to create an expansive vision of what could be? Tim Burners-Lee wanted to use it to create a friendlier “web” of pages, sharing data like the pages of a massive library of books extending throughout the world. The result was the worldwide web, upon which Mark Andreeson and his crew in Chicago built the Mosiac browser with his vision to make this data more available to anyone. Which in turn allowed innovators worldwide to create applications inside a browser, share detailed information previously locked inside libraries and corporations, and ultimately to change the world by making the exchange of information frictionless.
We can look back to Ford and other visionaries who were not inventors as well as Edison, Bell and Tesla who were inventors – as great innovators of their time. And perhaps the most impressive invention of recent times is the result of hundreds of people, firms, and institutions, each adding a new brick to the building of the Internet.
Now we have the infrastructure for innovators to create applications with open source software – building innovations for mobile, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain and drones. And millions of innovators are at work extending these capabilities.
So, could you be the next Ford, Jobs or Musk? You don’t have to invent the next big thing, just see the place where you can fit a technology into a new, much larger environment.
And who said that “Everything that can be invented has been invented?” Ah yes. That was Charles H. Duell, U.S. Commissioner of Patents in 1899. Oops.