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Technology

Re-invent the wheel or Learning from Past successes.


Steve Jobs didn’t invent Mp3 players. He wasn’t the first to make them, nor were they his seminal idea. In fact it is probably fair to say that we will never know the credible inventors of MP3 players, besides what links such as these tell us.

Yet upon the man’s death in October 2011, his company (which now employs over 60,000 employees) made the majority of the US$108 billion in revenues in 2011 from MP3 players, or very closely related products. It couldn’t possibly have been an easy ride (it rarely is), but  what Jobs and other creative mavericks did in shaping their companies was to take known (somewhat unpopular) technology, and after much tedious tweaking, re-designing, testing, more-tweaking; re-engineered the original device into something a lot more sublime, something “cooler” which was worth bragging about to your friends. And it wasn’t just the aesthetics, the technology itself is quite impressive too, to the point some have been awarded Nobel prizes for it. In urban speak, we can say that Jobs “jazzed” / or “pimped” the technology, and in the words of others “gave us products which we didn’t know we needed”.

But when you come to think of it, this is reconcilable with previous beliefs of other great innovators, for example Henry Ford, who was quoted as saying ” If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.

But wait a minute, if people can just dream up ideas and push them into an ideas tube, at the end of which is “the market”, how are they to know whether the public will like the idea or not? Surely such is not going to be sustainable in itself because there will be other ideas which will not catch on, or which are not that good, yet money will have been spent on them. How then is an innovator supposed to tell which idea will succeed, and which will not succeed?

I hear you say Market research. Fair enough, you can do some market research, but that has its problems, and most of the times is representative of only a small demographic, quite costly,  and doesn’t guarantee that the product will sell.

The truth is, there is no definitive way of telling what will sell and what won’t, and most ideas probably have equal chances of success at idea commencement.  Further, this is where entrepreneurial genius distinguishes the amateur from the future business magnates, in that while  sufficient capital backing, a functional and effective team; and market forces may help determine  or make products sell, it is only when certain  factors are balanced (i.e. Can i produce this on an industrial scale, so as to sell at a reasonable cost, but making a tidy profit for myself? Does it solve a problem? Why should anyone buy it? e.t.c) that success can be more readily achieved. Further, if companies like Apple or Ford are anything to go by, then it usually takes a 6th sense, an understanding of the entrepreneurial zeitgeist, usually from the leader, to know what will sell NOW, and why it will sell NOW.

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