In a previous article, I wrote about how the method of innovation has evolved over the past century. In a three part series I will briefly write about my favorite milestones in this journey. These milestones are not necessarily the first occurrences but they are more representative of how the method of innovation has evolved. In many cases the milestone would have catalyzed what was to happen in future. This article is the first of the three parts. You can also check part-2 and part-3.
· Edison’s invention factory (1876): Thomas Edison founded “Invention Factory” in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Over the next few decades this factory would churn out not only new products but also help create new industries such as electricity distribution and phonograph. Also see: Thomas Edison, the father of systematic innovation, Edison’s method of innovation, wikipedia page on Edison.
· Kodak’s brand innovation (1888): In 1880s various companies realized branding as an important lever of innovation especially in selling products to masses. George Eastman was one of them and I wrote earlier about his famous ad campaign: You press the button, we do the rest. Other brands like Coca Cola emerged during the same time. Edison did not understand the power of branding. (source: Giants of Enterprise by Richard Tedlow and George Eastman from History of Kodak)
· NCR’s suggestion box (1895): John Patterson, founder of National Cash Register (NCR), initiated the first documented “employee suggestion scheme” in the United States. The goal of his “hundred-headed brain” was to capture the creativity of workers and identify ways to improve efficiency. In 1904 alone the program received more than 7,000 ideas, one third of which were adopted. The Head of sales at NCR was fired by Patterson in 1913 and he went on to run another company which would become a major force globally in the 20th century. He would replicate many of NCR’s business processes in his company. The person who got fired was T. J. Watson Sr. and the company was IBM. (source: Giants of Enterprise by Richard Tedlow and Ideas are free by Robinson and Schroeder)
· S-curve and idea adoption (1898): French sociologist Gabriel Tarde (1843-1904) studied sociology just like chemistry – based on small psychological interactions among individuals, the fundamental forces being invention, imitation and opposition. He pointed out that communication and collaboration catalyze idea adoption. Tarde is today considered the father of innovation diffusion as a discipline. It would be another half a century before diffusion of innovation would be studied in hybrid seed corns in Iowa and later popularized by Everette Rogers. (source: Gabriel Tarde from New World Encyclopedia, diffusion of innovations - wikipedia)
· GE’s corporate research lab (1900): General Electric, a company founded on the legacy of two great innovators, Thomas Edison and Elihu Thomson, created its corporate research lab in 1900 in Schenectady, NY. In the next 15 years, a number of companies followed the suit and the number of research labs in the US went up from a handful to about a hundred. In Germany, the wave of industrial research was led by chemical companies such as Bayer (producing dyes that time) and Siemens (electrical equipment). (source: Engines of tomorrow by Robert Buderi)
· Continuous improvement at Ford (1913): Henry Ford and his team at Highland Park embraced experimentation and continuous improvement during the decade of 1910. The first moving line was operational on April 1, 1913 for flywheel magneto. By spring of 1914 engines, axles, and even the chasis were all put on moving assembly lines. In 1913 assembly took twelve hours and twenty eight minutes. In the spring of 1914, the same task could be accomplished in one hour and thirty three minutes. Thirty five years later when Toyoda-san, Chairman of Toyota, visited Ford plant in River Rouge, he would marvel at the continuous improvement process and would plan to implement it back home. (sources: Giants of Enterprise by Richard Tedlow and 40 years, 20 million ideas by Yazo Yasuda)
Related articles: A century of systematic innovation: part-2 and part-3
very good overview. I thought whether you were writing about certain products or inventions, but realized you were talking about process of generating ideas. (I should've guessed that knowing your earlier writing) I have some questions about Tarde's s-curve, but I will read about it and then ask you. Keep up the good work.ReplyDelete
(Was it Namdev, whose whole family was involved in writing thousands of Ovyaa? Looks like your family is following suit...)
Thanks, Rajesh. It is not about "generating ideas". The process of innovation addresses "idea to cash" route for for-profit and "idea to impact" for social innovations. Idea generation is a (usually small) part of it. For an overview of how to analyze an innovation, check out James Watt story:ReplyDelete
Interesting... I was searching this info for my uncle. He will be happy for such a great info. Thanks for sharing...ReplyDelete
Thanks, Ana. I am glad you found the information useful.ReplyDelete
There should be more initiatives like this one. Nice post... Thanks!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Marita. I am glad you found the information useful.ReplyDelete