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The Importance Of Innovation

Oct 18, 2007
Just outside the downtown area of Rochester NY is a stately tree lined thoroughfare known as East Avenue. On it, there is a mansion which was the former estate of George Eastman. The company George Eastman founded named "Kodak" was the pioneer of silver halide technology which became the cornerstone of photography. Today, 900 East Avenue is the site of the George Eastman Museum of Photography. Despite changing times and conditions, the company Eastman founded in the late 1890s is still a dominant factor in imaging technology.

Across town, there sits a major university called Rochester Institute of Technology. It is the academic focal point for another industry that grew up in Rochester. Under the pioneering efforts of Joseph C. Wilson, this company is now known all over the world as "Xerox."

Why are these two companies still in business 100 years later? With technological obsolescence, the passing of these two leaders, and the small city environment in which these corporations were founded, these companies should have gone broke and died many years ago. Add to it the invasion of industries from Japan, China, and Korea, and these two companies surely would have dropped dead by now.

What was the reason for this "survival?" Rochester used to be called "the Flour City." It was named after the proliferation of flour mills along the banks of the Genesee River. When flour milling went elsewhere, it was renamed "the Flower City" to commemorate the Lilac Festival and other gardens that grew up there. Does Rochester have a exclusive lock on survivability? Of course not.

Let us find out "Why."

A regular and repeated argument in commercial circles is the "chicken and egg" discussions. This one debates the order of importance between the factory floor producing the product and the sales team ensuring that it finds its place in the market. Without something to sell, any company might as well shut down. However, if such a company can't produce the product, it can't produce the inventory in the warehouse to sell anything. This is a regular chicken and egg debate if ever there was one - or is it?

When they dreamed up the "chicken and egg" debate, they forgot about a third factor. This is "innovation." In other words, they forgot about the rooster.

This is the inventor, the innovator, the ideas person, or the designer. This is the "rooster" in the chicken and egg debate. The innovator has first claim to ensuring the success of any corporation regardless of its size or market influence.

How many factories exist now thanks to that moment when the innovator sits up in bed at three in the morning armed with a thought that could change the world? Would classical music have ever have been the same without Mozart or Beethoven? Would modern day music have ever been the same without a crazy group of British rock music innovators, one of whom was knighted by the Queen?

The truth is we all need each other to complete a productive circle that involves many essential contributors to making an idea a commercial viability. There should be a much easier line of communication between the commercial world and the innovator.

Innovators are therefore left to find whatever route they can to reach a possible "buyer" for their idea. Many are notinterested in producing the product themselves or getting involved in its marketing. They are happy to leave such issues to the experts. This frees up the innovators to continue further product development and the conception of new ideas.

However, one of the major accomplishments of innovators overcoming the "way we do things" has been where innovators have overseen the evolutionary process. Ever since the pioneering days of George Eastman, Kodak would have not been Kodak unless two things took place. The first thing was that George Eastman was totally involved and became a participant in the innovative process. The second thing was that Eastman did everything to ensure that innovation continued even though Eastman would not live personally to see it happen. Thus, the Eastman legacy would ensure that Kodak would survive for many decades to come.

Companies can and do reward innovation. Most large companies have suggestion reward systems. Many others have patent disclosure systems, whereby the inventor may share in cost savings, process improvements, or new product introductions. In the corporate world, however, for every idea that is deemed praiseworthy enough to progress forward, there are many other ideas that are left behind, their inventors often ridiculed in the process.

When an employee executes a patent disclosure agreement when his/her company hires him or her, he/she is giving away all rights as an innovator to the hiring company. Such agreements may have a date/time stamp written into them. This means that John or Mary cannot invent something with XYZ Corporation and then go off and market this technology to a successor company. This includes John or Mary's own new startup company.

So, more power to the innovator and all owners of talented roosters to solve chicken and egg problems. From Thomas Edison's light bulb to George Eastman's Kodak Brownie, they are amongst the most important people on the planet. Amongst them, they have
generated all the things we have come to covet or depend upon. That service is something that is greatly overlooked and undervalued.

It is now time to give some recognition back to them in order that they may have a greater chance of seeing their dreams fully realized. A visit to the Patent and Trademark Office in Crystal City, Virginia near Washington DC will most certainly prove this point.
About the Author
Bob Carper is a veteran information systems consultant with an MBA from Pitt. For additional information go to All About Webconferencing or My Power Mall. You may also e-mail Bob at robertcarper06@comcast.net
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