Often, we think that a great idea, creating a Eureka moment, is good enough. Upon getting it, we need just risk capital to roll out for creating a fortune. Hence, we have been after finding great ideas and fueling them with risk capital. Unfortunately, every great idea emerges in primitive form. The rolling out of them starts generating loss-making revenue. Fortunately, additional ideas offer the opportunities of increasing the quality and reducing the cost. They play a vital role in turning loss-making revenue into profit. Hence, for creating success, great ideas demand a flow of ideas. Let’s look into the emergence and evolution of a few great ideas.
1. Smartphone idea emerged as a failure
In the 1990s, the cellular phone became very popular. Personal digital assistants (PDA) also became indispensable gadgets for busy professionals during that time. Hence, many of the professionals started carrying two devices in their pockets. Despite their usefulness, they also created inconvenience. Hence, a great idea emerged to combine them together. A single device having features of both of them gave birth to the smartphone. Subsequently, in 1994, IBM released the first smartphone-SIMON. This personal communicator had cellphone and all the PDA features with a touch screen. Furthermore, Simon had many useful applications like an address book, calendar, appointment scheduler, calculator, world time clock, electronic notepad, handwritten annotations, and standard and predictive stylus input screen keyboards.
Unfortunately, professionals did not prefer it due to its weight and little talk time. Upon seeing the sale of only 50,000 units over a year, IBM felt it had no future. Hence, IBM terminated the product. Ironically, Apple has created a fortune out of the smartphone. Apple fine-tuned many of the features of SIMON in designing its iPhone. In retrospect, despite the greatness, Simon great idea needed a flow of ideas for creating success. Many of those ideas are in Apple’s patent portfolio, growing every year. For example, in 2020, Apple came up at the 8th position in the USPTO with 2,791 granted patents–up 12 percent over 2019. It underscores the observation that Great Ideas Demand a Flow of Ideas.
2. Automobile idea has been expanding with a flow of ideas:
In the 19th century, human beings were after ideas for the automobile for replacing horses. The idea of the electric vehicle was one of them. But that great idea was not amenable to progression to make it a better substitute for the horse-driven wagon. Eventually, Carl Benz won the maiden patent for the automobile idea in 1886. This patent was for his idea of a “vehicle powered by a gas engine.” Like many other great ideas, it also emerged in primitive form. Benz’s idea of the automobile in the form of a three-wheeler powered by the internal combustion engine was weaker than a horse-driven wagon. Its speed was far less, and payload carrying capacity was also far lower than a horse wagon.
Fortunately, the internal combustion engine was quite amenable to progression. Hence, the race started to keep generating a flow of ideas for making it a better alternative. Eventually, automobiles took over horse wagons. But at the core of this success was the flow of additional ideas. For this reason, although the expected car sale in 2021 is 66 million, after 15 years of invention, German automobile makers succeeded in selling only 900 automobiles in 1901. The additional flow of ideas in the form of improved engine and cabin design, among others, has been playing a vital role in advancing the primitive emergence of this great idea.
3. Airplane’s great idea was of no use at the beginning:
There is no doubt that the Airplane or Aeroplane or plane has been a great idea. The journey began with the Wright brothers’ first airplane in 1903. It was extremely primitive indeed. There was not even a single seat for the passenger. In 1902, from September 20 until the last weeks of October, they flew over a thousand flights for demonstrating lift, control, and stability. But the brothers’ demonstrations’ longest duration was up to 26 seconds, and the longest distance was not more than 600 feet (180 m).
Certainly, this demonstration was not good enough in flying millions of passengers over the Atlantic. Hence, the race of gathering knowledge and turning it into a flow of ideas started to improve control, power, safety, cabin size, and comfort. This journey has resulted in transatlantic passenger flights and the innovation of jumbo jets like Boeing 747 or Airbus A380.
4. Light bulb great idea keeps demanding a flow of ideas:
Light bulb is a great idea indeed. This great idea also demanded a flow of ideas grows from its primitive emergence. The light bulb for which Edison got patent on 8 October 1883 lasted only a couple of hours. It needed a flow of ideas to be economically attractive. Hence, he set up an R&D center in 1900 for systematically investigating and generating ideas for extending the life span of the light bulb.
Even at the maturity, Edison’s incandescent light bulb, producing light by a wire filament heated with electricity until it glows, was very inefficient in converting energy to light. It converts less than 5 percent of the energy into visible light, and the remaining energy is used to get lost as heat. To overcome this limitation, the journey of idea production continued. Eventually, the light bulb got reinvented with the ideas of fluorescence and a light-emitting diode.
5. Phonograph great idea could not fly without a flow of ideas:
Upon demonstrating the talking machine to the president at the White House, Edison became America’s Wiz kid. Thomas Edison was awarded a patent on February 19, 1878, for the creation of the first device to both record sound and play it back. Despite creating a buzz, he found no commercial opportunity for his invention. Hence, he kept it on the shelf to gather dust over a period of 10 years. Volta Laboratory’s several improvements made in the 1880s created renewed interest leading to its commercial debut. It went through reinvention by Western electric by changing the acoustic technology core by electric. And it did not stop there. Just after WWII, Japanese companies reinvented it with electronic and magnetic technology cores. The journey of producing ideas for increasing the success of this great idea has been continuing, reaching the current state of streaming.
6. Great Idea photocopier got rejected by many:
During the 2nd half of the 20th century, the photocopier grew as a great innovation success story. But the emergence of this great idea started with rejection. In 1938, to demonstrate the idea of the photocopier, Chester Carlson used static electricity created with a handkerchief, light, and dry powder to make the first copy. But it was a primitive means of producing copies of documents. Inventor Chester Carlson was rejected by many, including GE, to take this idea forward for commercial rollout. Further work over a period of 20 years added many ideas, culminating in a 650 pounds machine, Xerox 914, in 1959. To exploit the full potential, Xerox set up a dedicated R&D center for creating a flow of ideas. Such reality clarifies why does a Great Idea Demands a Flow of Ideas.
7. Hard disk drive idea kept evolving with a flow of ideas:
The iPod Classic became an enduring icon largely because it contained a compact, 1.8in Toshiba 160GB HDD. But this great idea emerged in 1957 as IBM’s 5MB disk drive (ROMAC) weighing 1 ton. The drive occupied 16 square feet and used fifty 24-inch platters (rotating magnetic disks). Read/write head attached with two independently moving arms used to take an average access time of 600ms. Due to continued R&D, the idea kept flowing in improving areal density– from 2,000 bits/square inch in 1957 (in IBM RAMAC) to 1 trillion in 2015 (by Toshiba).
8. Digital camera demands a flow of ideas to roll out:
In 1969, America’s Bell Laboratories invented a great idea for capturing photons of light. It was the idea of using electronic devices (CCD), instead of film. This great idea has revolutionized the imaging industry, giving birth to a digital camera. For this great idea, inventors, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith were jointly awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics. But this great idea also emerged in a primitive form, producing only a 64-pixel noisy black&white image. Upon licensing from Bell Labs, Sony kept adding a flow of ideas over 12 years to make it suitable for a commercial product. Since then, Sony has been adding ideas to it till to date—leading to more than 70 million pixels on a single sensor. Despite such a reality, often, we fail to appreciate that Great Ideas Demand a Flow of Ideas.
9. Electric Vehicle has become a great idea due to a flow of ideas:
The electric vehicle idea has turned Tesla into a trillion-dollar company. But it emerged in primitive form—with low energy density, high charging time, and high cost. The success of this great idea has been stemming from a flow of ideas—demanding Nobel Prize-winning scientific discovery. Hence, there is no denying that Great Ideas Demand a Flow of Ideas.
10. Ridesharing great idea is stuck due to lack of flow of ideas:
All great ideas are not equally amenable to progression. Some of them get stuck and fail to deliver intended benefits. For example, ridesharing appears to be a great idea, as automobiles remain idle most of the time. Although smartphone-based Apps showed initial promise, that is not sufficient to unlock the potential of this great idea. It demands the replacement of the human driver with autonomous driving capability. Unfortunately, after showing initial promise, autonomous driving has got stuck before reaching the target.
In retrospect, invariably, great ideas surface in primitive form. In the beginning, they show faint potential. Often time, it poses challenges to decision-makers whether to pursue or not. But many of them are amenable to progression. They need a flow of ideas for progressively unlocking the potential. Hence, economic success stories do not emerge from the Eureka movement of getting great ideas. Contrary to common belief, invariably, rolling out of great ideas starts loss-making revenue. Great ideas demand a flow of ideas to keep improving the quality and reducing the cost—resulting in creating economic success stories. The demand for such flow ideas, in the form of changing the technology core, leads to winning and losing in the reinvention race.