Gadgets That Have Changed Our Lives

Greetings. Time magazine has just come out with its list of “The 50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time” and it is definitely a blast from the past (and present). It is also a really fun way to think about innovations that have shaped our lives and changed the way that we connect, explore, listen, picture, learn, play, make, share, and entertain ourselves.

As you go through the article and the gadgets and their brief histories, try to think about why each of these inventions generated so much interest and what lessons they offer in how you and your colleagues can create even greater interest and value in the products, services, and solutions you offer. Then imagine how some of the most recent gadgets, especially those that deal with connecting and educating people, might be used to enhance your work and build an even stronger bond with your customers, team members, and stakeholders.

regency-transistor-radio

But most importantly, have fun taking a stroll through this brief history of every day technology.

And in case you are pressed for time, here are the Top Ten…

10. The Hitachi “Magic Wand” (1968)

Let’s just say that this is the only item on Time’s list that is not always intended for children of all ages.

9. The Apple iPod (2001)

The device that changed the way a new generation consumed music and made Apple and the iTunes Store the world’s biggest music retailer.

8. The Kodak Brownie Camera (1900)

Talk about a revolution, Kodak put photography within everyone’s grasp 116 years ago when it made it possible for the world to capture and share the moments of our lives.

7. The Regency TR-1 Transistor Radio (1954)

It is fun to think back to countless evenings as a child when I fell asleep listening to San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s baseball games with my transistor radio under my pillow. It is also fun to think about how we tell our kids today to put away their slightly more versatile electronic devices and go to sleep.

6. The Victrola Record Player (1906)

While the phonograph was invented in 1877, the Victrola was the first record player to bring classical music and opera to homes around the U.S. and the world.

5. The IBM Model 5150 (1981)

Remember the day when almost everyone had an IBM PC or an “IBM Compatible” computer running the DOS operating system? And to think it wasn’t that long ago!

4. The Sony Walkman (1979)

I fondly recall having my first Walkman at the University of Michigan and delighting in my ability to take my music anywhere, in multiples of twelve songs. All by the same artist. I was literally a party waiting to happen! I also fondly recall trying to explain to our kids who have grown up in the digital age, why this large, limited, and somewhat lame gadget was so cool and revolutionary.

3. The Apple Macintosh (1984)

Bold, brash, intuitive, and launched with much fanfare and symbolism in 1984. While it might not have been what George Orwell intended, the first Mac would begin to reframe our connection to “thinking” machines.

2. The Sony Trinitron (1968)

While it wasn’t the first TV or the first color TV, the Trinitron would raise the state-of-the-art in televisions and establish Sony’s place as a global leader in consumer technology.

And Number One is…

1. The Apple iPhone (2007)

An elegant and user-friendly device that would revolutionize our notion of phones and smart phones, and that today places more apps and more computing power in the palm of our hands than a major university computer center did when I was going to college.

It is an intriguing list and an interesting lesson in modern history. And except for missing the waffle iron, twist top bottle, nose hair trimmer, and Popeil’s “Pocket Fisherman,” I would have to say that the folks at Time are pretty spot on in capturing the gadgets that have shaped our lives.

Popeil

Cheers!

A Surprising Lesson From Apple

Greetings. Apple is in the news again with two new iPhones and the long-awaited Apple Watch. In today’s world, “long-awaited” seems to mean something that has been imagined about for a year or two. Talk about resetting our notion of time and the speed at which all of us need to bring new ideas to market. In any event, the early buzz for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and the Apple Watch seems pretty positive, though it is hard to sort out whether these new products…and the watch in particular…will be the next game changers for this remarkable company.

Apple Watch

But there is an important lesson to learn from innovative companies like Apple that flies in the face of conventional wisdom about how the most successful companies innovate. The notion that they are filled with exceedingly clever people who, in the confines of their exceedingly well-designed workplaces, figure everything out by themselves. In fact, Apple owes much of its success to the ideas and insights of total strangers.

Think about what makes the iPod media player, with its dominant market share, so ubiquitous and successful. Certainly cool design, ease of use, and simple and elegant functionality have a lot to do with it. But Apple didn’t invent the concept of personalized music…that was Sony way back in 1979 with its then-revolutionary Walkman. And Apple didn’t invent the technology platform the iPod relies on…that was audio engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg and a German company named Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft, which developed the MP3 standard and received a patent for it in 1989. Ten years later, the first portable MP3 players hit the market, two years before the first iPod. And Apple, with its wildly successful iTunes store, certainly didn’t invent the notion of creating the greatest single source of content in the world: that was the Egyptians, who roughly 2,300 years ago built the Great Library of Alexandria…a library that contained more than four hundred thousand documents long before there were printing presses. Though its music and video collections left a lot to be desired.

Sony Walkman

What Apple did was combine its own brilliance with these inputs from strangers, along with the skills of a number of equally clever outside partners, to create the most compelling offering and product ecosystem available.

And the story is the same with the latest iPhones and iWatch.

Which suggests that all of us, and all of our companies and organizations, would benefit greatly from creating stronger connections with a network of very creative strangers who might provide a powerful foundation for our newest and best ideas.

We win in business and in life when we come to appreciate the brilliance of those who have come before us and those around us today whose ideas provide an essential piece to the puzzle of our success.

Cheers!

Finding Insight in a Box of Matzah

Greetings. For most of us in business today, selling our products and services is one of the greatest challenges we face…even when we have pretty darn remarkable offerings. After all, most customers have lots of choices, plenty of information, and only so much money to spend. Yet, in our wildest dreams, we fantasize about our ability to create products and services that will literally sell themselves. Products and services that are so unique, so intrinsically valuable, so totally cool, so compelling, and so essential to life on the planet that our customers simply can’t live without them. Products and services that seem, up to a point, to defy the laws of cost, competition, and even nature.

Yes these products and services do exist, but they are few and far between. Still we marvel at the brilliance of companies like Apple, Tesla, Airbnb, Under Armour, and even Lululemon before we could see through their clothing. Companies that inspire us to think that we, too, might also reinvent our industries in ways that really matter.

So imagine the challenge of trying to sell a product that is not only very old but hasn’t really changed much since the time it was invented. And when I say old, I mean really old. Like 3,500 years old. And as for innovation, which most of us assume to be a vital ingredient of business success, the only major change has been its production methods which were initially quite crude and crafted more out of necessity rather than a carefully developed plan.

Then let’s add to the equation the simple market reality that most customers only buy this product for seven or eight days a year. And that the folks who buy it represent one of the smallest market segments on earth. Now add to the mix the fact that there are plenty of competitors fighting for this modest market and using the same exact ingredients to make products that few customers would ever suggest was awesome.

Okay, so I’m talking about matzah. A product that is somewhat popular during this spring holiday season. The “bread of affliction.” An edible tribute to the exodus from Egypt in roughly the year 1,500 B.C. (or B.C.E.). A staple of the Jewish holiday of Passover that only a limited number of people have been chosen to eat. Sure anyone could buy it, and you could certainly eat it the rest of year. But let’s be serious. In a world filled with freshly-baked bagels, pumpernickel, croissants, brioche, baguettes, and even English muffins or Martin’s potato rolls, who (in their right mind) would opt for matzah?

And yet, the folks at Yehuda Matzos have somehow managed to be voted Numero Uno in the world of whole wheat matzah. And one taste of their crisp, beautiful, and rather ancient-looking treat confirms that they have magically figured out how to turn whole wheat flour and water into a veritable taste sensation. In fact, their matzah is different and each year compels me to imagine what it must have been like wandering through the desert with Moses hoping only to find a bit of advice from God and an oasis where they sold premium quality peanut butter.

Which leads to one simple idea. No matter what you do, commit to being the best you can be! Because every company, product, service, or even individual has the potential to be remarkable in ways that really matter. Even if the heart of your “offerings” is all about authenticity or a certain biblical requirement. The most enduring businesses, offerings, and people are the ones that consistently figure this out.

Yehuda Matzos

We win in business and in life when we commit to being #1 in something worth doing. And when we understand what is truly possible for our products, services, and customers, more deeply than anyone else.

Cheers!

Competing With Yourself

Greetings.  Amid all of the excitement about the new iPhone 5, it is interesting to think about the creation of the original iPhone.  Launched in 2007, it became one of the most remarkably successful technology products in history–with each new version setting sales records that dazzle the imagination.  In fact, within an hour of taking orders, Apple announced that it had sold out its initial inventory of the iPhone 5.

But an even more fascinating story involves the logic behind creating this product.  A logic that was driven in large part by the desire to create an offering that would "kill" its equally impressive and successful iPod before any of Apple's competitors did.  Because it was clear to the team at Apple that someone was going to figure out how to combine a music and content player with a smartphone.     

To learn more, click here to read Farhad Manjoo's article which appeared earlier this week in Slate and was reprinted in Sunday's edition of the Washington Post. Then think about whether it is time to reinvent your offerings or even your entire business in a bold and compelling way–before someone else does.  Because that might be the only way to survive and prosper.

Iphone-5-release-date

We win in business and in life when we anticipate the need to change. And when we do it brilliantly before anyone else.

Cheers and have an inventive week ahead!

Steve Jobs

Greetings.  I've written a few times about the genius of Apple–a genius driven in large part by the vision of Steve Jobs.  His passing yesterday was cause for sadness among all of us who have ever benefitted from his remarkable ability to imagine a different world in which people are far more connected, engaged, entertained and knowledgeable.  In the days and weeks ahead there will likely be many tributes to his brilliance.  And many opportunities for all of us to think about how to apply his insight and passion to the lives of our companies and organizations.  Insight and passion that can be a powerful spark to our own creativity and a fitting honor to his legacy.

Steve_jobs3

So next time you use your iPhone, iPad, Mac or visit the iTunes store or an Apple retail location, pause for a moment to think about the real magic of this company and the person behind it.  

Magic that you can bring to the customers you serve.