Innovation

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I was going to write a completely different blog.  No, it probably would have covered a lot of the same material- but the tone would have been different.  Very different.

Since I was a little boy, I became irate at certain business practices.  The malarkey of “new” and “improved”.  Making something and putting it in a new box is not new.  It probably is not even improved.

John Bryant, CEO of Kellogg gushing about his new “innovation” of ‘Gone Nutty! Peanut Butter Poptarts’ is NOT an innovation.  Making a beer with more alcohol is not an innovation either- it may even been a step back. No wonder 2/3 of the largest companies think they are in the top tier of innovative companies- because they wouldn’t know an innovation if it clubbed them to death.

Nor is “listening to our customer and producing things of value” innovative.  Sorry, Mr. John Faraci (International Paper, CEO) – that makes you responsive to customer needs.  It makes you the kind of company with whom I would enjoy interacting.  But, that does not  render your firm innovative.  (Especially since smaller companies have been paying attention to what their customers/clients wanted for decades- and delivering those services/products to them…routinely. )

Being competitive in the marketplace means you are competitive.  It does not render you innovative.  Nor does a product extension make one innovative.

Innovation
Innovation (Photo credit: masondan)

There are exceptions.  When I was younger, IBM was the “cat’s meow”.  They developed more patents than anyone- except for Ma Bell (AT&T- actually AT&T Labs).  Nowadays, Ma Bell is gone, IBM is a completely different company, and Samsung Electronics- the Korean giant- creates more new patents than almost anyone else in the world.  (No, Apple doesn’t even come close to being in the same ballpark.)

I know some really innovative folks.  Bob Langer immediately comes to mind.  (I’ve written about him before- here’s one example.)  I used to think I was really innovative until I met him some 40 years ago.  I am still innovative- but like Apple not being in Samsung’s class… I’m not in Bob’s either.  (I don’t have a team of graduate students who can help me be creative, either.)

So, now I’ll get to what I was first going to write about.  My grandson Eli.  I want him to know the kind of things his ‘saba’ has created.  Because who knows how long I will be around to tell him.

Just like my son asked when he was just a little older than Eli.  Because he was not like his older siblings, who had the opportunity (affliction?) of being taken everywhere I went, meeting my clients, visiting companies large and small, near and far.  (My eldest had a “gold” [back when that was as high as it went] card on TWA- she flew some 100K miles a year with me… when she was three or four.)

My son went with me on his first trip out of the country.  And was mesmerized by the reception I received from my clients.  He wanted to know why they asked me all these questions…didn’t they have thousands of employees who could answer them…So, over the course of an hour or so, I went over some of the things I invented.  My memory was better then- so I even did them in order of development.  Now, they all blend together to a large degree.

From a hydroponic unit that enabled rapid growth of foods and vegetables.  To a novel hemodialyzer.  To a compounding pharmacy that shared its profits with patient care entities.  To online, inline monitoring of patient health. To a computerized blood analyzer (note- it was a REALLY big computer.)  To a portable baby bath that meant you didn’t have to bend over- or couldn’t drown a baby or put it in the sink. All that was before 1974.  To a self-contained home water recycling system. To a strain of bacteria that converted ammonia to gases.  (The second microbial patent- GE was first.)  To a water recycling car wash. To a portable air purification system for asthmatics and highly allergic folks. To microbes that treated chemical waste from big industrial plants. To a controlled environment for apple storage.  To a water purification system- to provide sterile, pure drinking water for a family of 8 (with a system the size of a toaster oven.) To the first non-pasteurized apple cider that had a reasonable shelf-life. To a joint program that let travelers check in for a flight, a car, and a hotel- without once deviating from their business trip- before there were computerized travel programs.  To the first liquid bicarbonate dialysate.  To colon electrolyte lavage.  All that before 1985…

You get the idea.  That’s innovation.  And, that’s what countries need to nurture and perpetuate to stay competitive. It’s what companies need to make the most profits. And, what I- and the rest of my team- can do for you and your companies.

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