Don't Innovate – Steal Ideas and Create Value

by Caspar van Rijnbach

Don't Innovate - Steal Ideas and Create ValueWe all need to be creative and innovative nowadays, as a person as well as a company. At least that’s what we understand from the media and from all those consultants. But does it really matter to be creative? Do we all need to be able to come up with remarkably original ideas? To understand this, let’s take for example the most mentioned innovation of the last decade: the iPod. The question is: was Apple’s iPod really such an innovation? Where did the creative ideas come from?

  • MP3 technology? Well I guess I don’t need to argue that MP3 technology long existed before the first iPod came out (the first mentioning of the technology dates back to the 20th century when the standard was released by the Moving Picture Expert Group in 1993);
  • It’s design and functionalities? Apple has confirmed that the original design and technology of the iPod came from Kane Kramer, a British inventor, who patented it in 1979 (his idea fell in public domain in 1988);
  • It’s easy to use touch screen? The original idea for the touch screen was invented by Jason Ford of Elo TouchSystems (formally EloGraphics) in the 1970s;
  • The business model with iTunes? MusicNet and Pressplay already had developed online music stores before Apple did;

So what was it then that made Apple’s product and business model such a big hit? And why is it that Apple is seen as such an innovative company, while the individual characteristics of the iPod and iTunes are not such original ideas at all? Well, Apple combined all the ideas and inventions mentioned above, incorporated them in the iPod and iTunes and did it a little better than anybody else (while making sure to stay ahead in the game). Besides that, the company knew how to market the innovation and how to protect it.

Steve jobs believes that great artists steal ideas (Interview with Steve Jobs (1994) about the creation of the Apple Macintosh) and use them for their competitive advantage. We all know that it is difficult to come up with completely new technology, design or business models. When you think you have a new idea, just search on the internet and you will see that others already have came up with your idea. Innovation is about bringing ideas to life, implementing them and more important, extracting value from them. Knowing that nowadays you can access the minds and ideas of several millions of people on the planet, it might be worth using some of these ideas instead of trying to come up with them yourself. Don’t get me wrong, being creative is surely important, but maybe, instead of trying to become the inventor of the year, you might want to find some ideas out there and transform them so they generate value for you and your organization.

Sources: Wikipedia


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Caspar van RijnbachCaspar van Rijnbach is a specialist in innovation management and partner at TerraForum Consulting in Brazil – www.terraforum.com.br and www.terraforum.ca. Co-author of “Innovation: Breaking Paradigms” and “Management 2.0’’ (in Portuguese).

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  1. Did you know that over 500 000 patents will be filed with the US Patent office this year, and more than 80% of all these patents have no commercial impact. Their value is lost. So your article offers insight into an idea we’re calling Patent Free Zone. Our company, PFZ Global, is leveraging patented information that is public and legal to help entrepreneurs in emerging markets. PFZ’s exceptional way to transform developing market economies is done by sourcing patented solutions that accelerate the innovation, manufacturing and commercialization of services and products. Using exclusive software, PFZ Global analyzes and creates visual reports of inventive ideas in the public domain – like “Google maps for patents” combined with “open source for any technology” – and is able to provide immediate solutions with better ROI for businesses and investors in emerging markets where US patents are not registered.We’re making a real difference in helping to deal with global issues – just smartly using what’s already available and not reinventing the wheel, but making better wheels.

  2. Caspar

    Small correction – MP3 technology was not first mentioned in the 19th century. I think you mean 20th century. (The first device that could record sound mechanically was only invented in 1857! :O)

    (Also small typo – “bake” is probably meant to be “back”)

    Apart from that – great article. Indeed – a lot of the really “great” ideas come from something that already exists. In fact, before something is really considered “innovative” it has usually already existed 10 years. However, what it ended up as (the “innovative” idea) is not what it started out as. It all depends on what someone does with the original idea.

    Cheers

    Mark

  3. you have problems with your ethical …
    I don’t try to understand what may motivate someone to lie…

  4. Caspar van Rijnbach

    All, Thanks for your contributions!

    Some response:

    Mark, I was not referring to the MP3 technology itself, but to the statement by Alfred Marshall Mayer, who in 1894 reported that “a tone could be rendered inaudible by another tone of lower frequency”. About the MP3 technology you are surely right!

    ATIG, I am surely not asking people to be unethical. Using a patent which has become public is not something unethical to my opinion. What I meant is to search for great existing ideas instead of trying to be “inventor of the year”. I am very much against real “stealing”.

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