Posted by: Dylan | December 12, 2008

Innovation is Overrated

The greatest achievements of humanity are always a colossal departure from what was previously thought possible, attainable, or what was previously unimaginable. The most remembered accomplishments and inventions are remember as being radically different from whatever came before them and were the first of their respective kind. But innovation is not the primary reason for the success of an idea. The execution and use of innovation is what leads to success. Just because someone was the first to come up with an idea does not mean that it will be well received. If the idea is not presented in a good manner it will not succeed.

The idea of using a mouse on a computer was a very novel and innovative concept. Previously, people had only controlled computers through pressing keys. This would often take more time to select items and navigate through a program.  A mouse greatly increased efficiency of computer use. The first mouse was invented by Douglas Engelbart in 1968. Despite its obvious superiority to other means of computer control devices, it did not catch on. Its patent eventually expired and Xerox, Sun Microsystems, Symbolics, and a few other companies started to sell computer workstations equipped with mice. This did not catch on either.

In 1984, the mouse finally saw widespread use with the Apple Macintosh. That is 16 years after its conception. It seems strange that such an important and obviously superior method of navigating through a Graphical User Interface took such a long time to be used. The design of the mouse did not change that drastically over the 16 years since its invention and rise into public use. At the time, it was no doubt an unique concept. The user is essentially controlling an object in a virtual environment with its own dimensions. But the innovation and unique concept did not help the mouse to achieve widespread use. A good marketing campaign and presentation of the invention was necessary. It needed to be shown to the public, and its usefulness needed to be apparent.

It does not matter how great an idea is if nobody recognizes it or if the creator can not capitalize on it. There are many other people who can easily take your idea and use it, or if it is patented or copy-written, come up with a similar idea and market it better. There are many large companies and organizations with a lot of work-force who can easily take an idea created by someone else and spread it quicker and receive the recognition. This is not an evil thing, it is just a fact of business.

I am by no means belittling innovation, but coming up with a good idea is not good enough to guarantee success. One must create, and then implement and execute. Spread your idea around and make it clear why it is useful and important, otherwise someone else could take it and get the success. Find a way to make your idea not only new, but hard to replicate. You should provide a product or service which cannot simply be used better by someone with a larger work-force. It is not enough to come up with something new, one must also come up with something that will remain different from the competition, no matter the number of competitors.



  1. Dylan:

    The history of the post-it illustrates your point.

    [I may be correct on the details of this saga but the story is true.] A division of 3-M developed a glue with durable tackiness and with a shear strength that was less than that of most papers.

    The glue was developed for a project that is now lost to the ravages of time. However, the head of the project thought that the glue could be used for what everyone now knows as post-it type products. She tried to convince the marketing department of the efficacy of the use of the glue for post-it type puproses but was summarily turned down.

    She then had the R&D department make up thousands of post-it pads and gave them to secretaries at 3-M. She made the post-its available to the secretaries for a period of time and then abruptly cut off the supply. When the secretaries clammered for more post-its from the R&D department it said “Sorry we don’t have any more. Call marketing and request them.” After marketing was inundated with calls from 3-Ms own secretaries the marketing department finally saw the light. The rest, as they type, is history.


  2. D

    I meant — I may NOT be correct on the details.


  3. Dylan – I like your article but equally enjoyed the 1st comment re history of post-its. I need to come up with a good idea so I can get a windfall in order to do something more creative with the rest of my life that will also be helpful to others! I have learned alot tonight. Thanks!

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