Innovation Influencers - from MIT to Xerox

Innovation Influencers - from MIT to Xerox
May 17, 2011

In preparation for our July 20th webinar with Michael Maddock, the co-author of Brand New, Solving the Innovation Paradox, two articles caught my eye. The May 16th New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell (of Tipping Point fame) and the May 15th Boston Globe Special Edition honoring the 150th anniversary of MIT.

Gladwell’s article “Creation Myth,” tells the story of Xerox’s famous Palo Alto Research Center, Apple and the truth about innovation. His basic point is about the tension between innovators and corporations or taking an idea, developing it and implementing. The myth about Xerox PARC is that Apple took their ideas about the mouse and used it to create the Macintosh and Xerox missed a huge opportunity. In reality, the laser printer was the result of their research with computers (you needed something to print the output) and Xerox re-invented an entire corporation on this innovation. 

The Globe’s supplement ranked the 150 most fascinating, fun, important, interesting, lifesaving, life-altering, bizarre and bold ways that MIT has made a difference. The list ranged from canned soup to spreadsheets, radar to pet scans and disposable razor blades to the graphical user interface. The Top 10 in order are:

1. World Wide Web Consortium

2. Human Genome Project

3. Transistor Radio

4. E-mail

5. Birth of Biotech

6. Minicomputers

7. Robots

8. Water Quality Standards and Sewage Treatment

9. Audio Acoustics

10. Global Positioning Systems

What is pretty amazing is that transistors beat out e-mail and biotech. Think about it for a moment, in 1947, the transfer resistor (transistor) was patented by Bell Labs and among the first products to take advantage of transistors were the hearing aid, portable radio, and television. In 1954, Texas Instruments developed the silicon transistor and the rest is history. Here is the list of ideas and companies that spawned innovation in business, technology, culture, health, energy and transportation.

The takeaway is that whether you are a student, someone working in a garage, engineer or employee at a company, that “innovation is an unruly process..some ideas don’t get caught in your cup. But that’s not what the game is about. The game is what you catch, not what you spill.” (Nathan Myhrvold quoted in Creation Myth article, page 53).

To hear more about innovation, please register for the  Brand New, Solving the Innovation Paradox webinar on July 20. This is part of our SummerFest series of webinars with thought leaders.