Innovation vs Game Changing

So these are two much used (and often misused) terms applied to technology.

Our CEO last week in his annual meeting with us proposed a thought experiment as part of his “Company 4.0” initiative. (next month will start his fourth year as CEO).

The ideas are around “innovation” versus “game changing” and his belief that it’s the latter that is most impactful for the company especially for growth.

So to clarify on some definitions (with examples) of the differences between innovation and game changing…

Innovation, can and most often does incorporate new as well as old/existing ideas, but combining them in a new way(s).

Game Changing is something that profoundly remakes the broader market and/or the company itself.

For example the iPhone was innovative as it combined existing tech such as touch screen, an actual full OS useful apps and, unique form factor in to a mass market device.

But it did not become a “game changer” until the advent of the App store and 3g connectivity.

To use another Apple related example, The original LaserWriter was innovative in several ways such as ease of use, large (for the time) library of fonts (and ease in obtaining and utilizing them) and incorporation of PostScript. And of course it was an offshoot of HP’s commercial introduction of Laser Printing Tech.

But it became a game changer when combined with the Mac and Adobe (Then Aldus) PageMaker. It literally created a category called desktop publishing and forever changed the way businesses produced some many of their public facing materials including but not limited to advertising materials, user manuals , corporate communication, etc.

And HP in perhaps it’s last iteration of the “kill your children” ethos knew that with the introduction of inkjet printers , a game changer they were at a minimum going to kneecap their hugely successful laser printer business. But they also recognized that if they didn’t do it themselves, their competitors would be more than happy to do it for them.

So then of course to us…
Our custom device group has been innovative, but hasn’t been game changing, unlike much earlier when we made a commercial business of our consulting and designing services, which previously had been solely in service of the needs of the company itself.

So… I have until next week to propose my next possible “game changer”

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Bravo! Exactly this! Game-changing is further down the spectrum between the goal posts of innovation and outright invention, where game-changing is where you get that synergy or secret sauce where just the right blending of innovative parts comes out far greater than the expected sum of them totaled individually.

Given your definitions, one of the earliest and best game changers was WordPerfect support. In the early days of personal computing technical support, especially for software, was unheard of, BUT WordPerfect provided free, unlimited, 800 number support. The lawyers and secretaries in our office could call for help with anything, from backing up files to formatting long documents, to ANYTHING involving reveal codes formatting. For a small firm like ours (and many others nationwide) it was a “game changer” because it leveled the playing field when there was no good third party training or support - and made them King of the DOS era word processors.

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Can you imagine that level of support anywhere today? I can’t.

NOPE - and it was a godsend for early PC users. Their software manuals, which were small three ring notebooks with sleeves for your floppy disks, detailed so much of the use of the software it was almost overwhelming.


PS - this is not mine - it’s a picture of WordPerfect 5.1 from an eBay seller. Earlier versions were nearly as detailed.

Hey @Bronsky - fond memories?

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Yeah but you also have to take in to account how much you paid for the software, not to mention significant annual (or thereabouts) upgrade fees.

If memory serves WP was $395 and that’s in 1990’s dollars

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I think it was closer to $499 back in late 80’s early 90’s and worth every penny. But that does not fit today’s paradigm of “Why should I pay anything for this?” Today’s been counters would go NUTS in those days. Because licensing was even more serious back then, we were paying for 4 secretaries and 6 lawyers - $5000 in 1988 dollars is only $13,200 today, so your point is well taken.

PLUS, today we now have the infinite internet universe to look for answers, of course with the help of Copilot - tight?

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Our most cynical engineer says the major reason there is not things such as printed documentation anymore is that it serves as proof of intended functionality and thus puts them on the hook to fix it when it doesn’t work :zipper_mouth_face:

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I don’t have my binder anymore but I had that very sleeve, binder and manual.

I feel this. Even online documentation for version updates are sparse and hard to read.

But also, yeah, a common saying in my field is, “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature”.

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Ugh, speaking of cynical engineers (me…), I tire of this constant parade of CEOs having to somehow reinvent the company mission/vision every single year to appease shareholders. I get it, sometimes we have pockets of the company who invent processes/tools with no impactful rhyme or reason, but I do think most engineers are pretty practical and are optimizing efficiency through innovation. It’s honestly quite insulting to be told that something has to be “game changing”… like hey CEO where have you been???, we’ve been doing this the entire time way before you got here.

To be snarky, I think a “game changing” technology should be an AI that can take over the role of CEO. It could consume all the KPIs and company metrics and determine maximum margins in seconds with no emotion and without layers of middle management. Then I wouldn’t have to spend 40% of my working time creating powerpoints and demos to educate all the endless tiers of non-subject-matter-expert executives on what we’re doing to impact KPIs… and where this info winds up getting perverted upwards (via telephone game) that the CEO ultimately receives the original message incorrectly.

Now you could argue that the danger is that AIs hallucinate, but I’d counter that executives hallucinate all the time! And I’d further argue that the GPU cluster electricity bill would be a fraction of the typical executive compensation package.

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@nyb72 - high five my friend - love this post!

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Yeah I’m not a fan of this trend of each CEO having to have a “game changing” innovation.

I think it’s a legacy of Clay Christianson’s book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” which among other things talks about the success being a “disruptor” can bring, and also what happens to the vast majority of companies that once they have been that (and Apple is even more of a Unicorn in that regard, having done it more than once) the company then stagnates.

I can’t help but see parallels with what Cook seems to be trying to do with the Vision Pro and what Sculley tried to do with the Newton which was to create and define a whole new class of computing device.

That’s an incredibly big swing and it cost Sculley his job. OTOH it could be argued that the Newton most definitely led eventually to the iPhone.

But what most miss from Christianson’s book too was that it was virtually impossible to be deliberately a disruptor and that it was all about the unique factors of the product, the market at the time, and prevailing and new trends.

The best example of which is the chapter on flash storage, which was/is a major disruptor, but also that NONE of the originators of the tech, survived to actually make it successful and it was other companies that were innovators in deploying it, that were ultimately successful eg. SanDisk.

My $ .02 for the minute.

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