Teaching How to Change

[This February 2019 item was originally published in the Digital Deliverance newsletter but not before been posted here.]

It’s a Beatles vs. Rolling Stones question. What’s the difference between invention and innovation? Invention creates something that had no precursor; innovation makes remarkably better something that had a precursor. The world lauds inventors (Gutenberg, Edison, Marconi, Tesla, et. al.). Yet innovators often have greater effects on our everyday lives, plus it’s much easier to become one. If you’re open to new ideas!

A sales executive from Japan’s Toshiba company in 1999 had trouble finding any company willing to purchase tens of thousands of his company’s new one-inch wide hard drives. Until he met Apple computer hardware engineering chief Jon Rubinstein. Other companies saw no reason to use such small drives when larger 3.5-inch hard drives had much larger capacity. Why bother using them? However, Rubinstein was from a company founded on innovation – making better personal computers and nowadays better music players and better mobile phones. One of Apple’s goals in 1999 was to find a way to create an elegant, smaller, and tapeless version of the Sony Walkman music cassette player. Rubinstein realized that Toshiba’s tiny disc drives would be the key part for that. Rather than misperceiving Toshiba’s tiny disc drives as worthless part for personal computers, Rubinstein saw those drives as a integral way to computerize something else: portable music players. The resulting product, introduced in 2000, was the Apple iPod.

That’s is a good story about innovation, but it’s gotten trite from retelling during the past 20 years. I look around for other stories like it. For example, a Japanese small foundry, the Nousaku works, that found a way to reverse its fortune and position by being open-minded enough to turn what others called a flaw into a feature. View the four-minute video above about them. Excellent thinking!

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