Over the last week, I was in Singapore with Microsoft and others. Whilst I was there, I found these things interesting enough to note… and comment on.
“ALBERT Einstein famously declared anyone who hadn’t made a scientific breakthrough by the age of 30 never would. That was by and large true when, in 1905, at age 26, he proposed his special theory of relativity, E=MC2. Today, the “mean age of great achievement” is 48, according to a study of the life and accomplishments of 525 scientists who won a Nobel prize in physics, chemistry and medicine between 1901 and 2008″
Well that is certainly a relief, as I had been about to consign myself to the creativity dustbin. I look forward to the world change I will bring about in just a few short years from now. Seriously, though, I’ve always wondered about this notion that you have some short and finite time before which you become so set in your ways you can’t make a difference. I know I have observed on multiple occasions that people in large organisations exhibit this trait, but I’ve always wondered whether this was a symptom of an environmental thing endemic to those who’ve stayed in the same job for 20 years or more. Now I know.
Steve Jobs was a tweaker, Malcolm Gladwell writes… he notes that tweakers who perfect inventions often bring about more progress than the original inventors
This is the core and central theme of my next book, Sidestep and Twist, out shortly. Time and time again, the great money making inventions of the last two decades have proved not to be the significant breakthroughs you’d expect, but incremental improvements on what went before. This, of course, is an anathema to anyone who believes the great corporate myth of our time: that if you are first with something genuinely new, you have a chance to get rich. The reverse is usually true.
According to a study by Booz & Co., more than two-thirds of large companies increased their investment in innovation last year… that said, another interesting finding of the study was that not all of the big innovators are big spenders; some of the most successful at developing new products and services invested significantly less in R&D.
The relationship between research spending and profits has always been somewhat remote. The reason is the same one as that noted above: breakthroughs have not usually been all that significant money makers. There is a good economic reason for this, actually, which is breakthroughs are usually too expensive, or too complex, or too under-performing when they’re first discovered to actually be that much use to people. As history has shown us, they usually take many years to mature to the point where it is actually possible to get to critical mass and make a profit.
If Apple or Google wants to build a product, they typically go build it,” Zuckerberg continued. “Whereas if Facebook wants to make it so that we want to re-think the way people listen to music or watch movies, what do we do? We build a platform on top of which people can connect and we enable all these different companies, dozens of companies, to plug in.
As we have seen in the case of Facebook’s wholesale destruction of MySpace, usually those who can get a platform adopted (where a platform is a two-sided market which unites multiple groups of customers) wins. The other core principle in Sidestep and Twist is those companies which build platforms will have a sustainable competitive advantage over everyone else; and those who continue with features, perhaps with some antiquated protections based on patents, trade secrets or copyrights, will eventually lose.