Innovation — The Only New Idea
It took thousands of years to reach the first billion and only another 200 years to reach seven billion people on our planet.
When I was 10, the population was three billion people. As a boy in school in the 1950’s education was achieved by repeating a fact to the drum-beat of a class in unison. I remember the chant clearly. I also remember being admonished for suggesting that the world map looked like a puzzle that was once a single landmass. I was made to stand in the corner for the remainder of that geography class. Was I the only one that thought that? I don’t think so.
There was a time, long ago, when every thought must have been an original thought. Today, there is no such thing as original thought. It’s impossible to think of a completely new thought, idea or thing that has not been thought of before.
Humans throughout history have prospered by taking an old idea and building on it, modernizing it, making it better and more innovative. I spoke in Cairo, Egypt, recently on the subject of paper, its history and its future. We can trace paper back 4,000 years when papyrus was first used as a medium for writing and painting. Tshia Lun, a Chinese eunuch, however, gets the credit for “inventing” paper 2,500 years later. He did not have the original thought, but he applied himself to making it better.
Gutenberg did the same in the sixteenth century, in Mainz, Germany and is credited with the invention of the printing press. He took others’ ideas and improved on them. His biggest contribution to printing, however, was to invent metal moveable type in a hand-held block. This made using the press quick, easy and profitable.
That is why “profit” is the mother of invention and innovation. Today, of course, we do not use vegetable fibers to make paper like Tshai Lun did in 105AD. We use sustainable wood pulp on machines capable of running at 300 feet a minute.
Of course, without the invention of paper, Gary Starkweather (pictured) would not have “invented” the laser printer at Xerox. Starkweather was trying to “invent” a high-speed fax machine at the time. The “eggheads” (those that are supposed to know) at Xerox thought it would be very profitable. Using a laser to get over his lack of lumens, Starkweather accidentally created the laser printer. Those eggheads didn’t see the potential for profit. In fact, they expected Xerox “may” be lucky to sell 300 laser printers a year. Starkweather was told to scrap the idea and get on with producing the high-speed fax machine. After HP announced it had sold its 30 millionth laser printer, Starkweather resigned from Xerox and went to Microsoft.
The fast pace of change within our imaging industry seems to raise the same question over and over. Where do we go from here? It’s a good question and prompted by the concern for ongoing profits. It is a question asked repeatedly in OEM boardrooms.
Somewhere out there, is another Tshai Lun, Gutenberg or Starkweather, taking everything we already know and making it better, faster, cheaper, more profitable and more secure.
Secure, because after 30 years the imaging aftermarket has taken 20-25% market share away from the inventors, or OEM’s. In a market where profit is derived from consumables and not equipment sales, the focus is now to find a Fort Knox solution to stop any aftermarket growth. The technology is already here and it’s only a matter of time until the OEMs use it.
Steve Weedon is an award-winning CEO who has held senior management positions at various OEMs as well as Katun Corp and SCC. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Print-Rite Europe Limited, Print-Rite Pelikan GmbH Germany and Print-Rite Pelikan SAS France.
He was the original founder of The Recycler Magazine and of trade shows in Europe. He also established Static Control’s Worldwide Subsidiaries and relocated to the US to become executive vice president. Weedon headed up the global Cartridge World network after it was acquired in 2016. He can be contacted on LinkedIn.
Weedon is a popular columnist in RT ImagingWorld Magazine and speaker at RT Summits and events. You can read his other blogs.
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