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.


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.



Google vs. Humans

Greetings. There are many days when I worry that Google has become the “de facto” source of all knowledge. Students, including our own children, use it as the most essential “go to” place in doing homework assignments. They also use it as an easy first stop for answering most of the essential questions that arise in the rest of their lives including finding out about the best new artists, the latest movies, and things to do. Adults use it as a quick reference for insight on products and services, and to get referrals for the best neighborhoods to live in, the best schools to send their kids to, the best vacations to take, the best places to dine, and the best doctors to use. And companies of all shapes and sizes turn to it as the quickest and best way to research customers, competitors, and even prospective employees. Not that all the world’s information is owned by Google, but for most of us it has become the principal gateway for finding out about stuff that matters.

At the expense of humans.

Now I’m sure that there are humans at Google…very smart humans…but I’ve rarely had the pleasure to talk with them.

Remember the “epic” battle in 2011 between IBM’s Watson supercomputer and Ken Jennings, the exceedingly smart (or should we say “trivial” in a good sense) Jeopardy champion who had won on this gameshow an amazing 74 straight times? It was a battle to see if a computer was smarter at trivia than a well-versed human. Well Google has taken it a step further. Rendering all of us humans as somewhat deficient providers of knowledge.

And that has interesting implications for all of us.

Not that I find Google to be unhelpful. And, truth be told, I use it a lot of the time. But I’d like to think that I use it most often to find remarkable people and ideas to connect with and that it is simply the start of a process of being curious, learning new things, and then making new connections so I can start meaningful conversations with actual humans that increase my understanding, stretch my thinking, and enable inspiring collaborations.

Because in an era when all of us tend to rely on the internet and Google for more and more guidance, I still believe that real sparks and breakthroughs happen best when we challenge ourselves to engage new people…especially people with ideas, perspectives, training, and life experiences that are very different than our own.


We win in business and in life when we get beyond the world that sits conveniently at our fingertips and connect with others in new and compelling ways.


Knowledge Leverage-ment

Greetings.  Recently I wrote about the importance of casting a wider net in our search for new and better ways to solve important problems and create meaningful business opportunities.  In that post I outlined eight great places to look for ideas, insight, and inspiration that ranged from our own "backyard" to other industries, disciplines, and cultures.  So let's start to spend a bit more time looking at each one, beginning with the easiest and most obvious–unlocking all of the genius inside our own companies and organizations.  I say "easiest" with a slight bit of trepidation.  Because while it seems logical for companies to assign a high priority to leveraging their own best thinking and practices, most don't. Instead, they allow knowledge and wisdom to remain "trapped" in business units, groups, silos, divisions, verticals, teams, functions, projects, programs, or whatever they choose to call them.  Rarely sharing, and building on, existing ideas that could support innovation and growth more broadly.  

But it doesn't have to be this way.  And, it doesn't have to be overly complicated. Sure, there's a lot of information and data floating around our companies.  And, not all of it is important to our growth and future success.  But there's real reason to believe that you and your colleagues are clever enough to be capturing your best thinking and using it as a starting point for even better thinking.  We're often told that the biggest obstacle is finding the time to capture our ideas. But that's merely a cop-out for an unwillingness to make our knowledge assets a strategic priority. Many leading businesses–like IBM, Adobe, Dow Jones, Salesforce, and Google–consistently win in their marketplaces because they understand the real value of knowledge.

Granted, the phrase "knowledge management" doesn't help to get people on board. After all, it isn't a name that really demonstrates the clear business value of what we are trying to accomplish.  Why waste your time "managing" information? Instead, we ought to call it knowledge or genius "leverage-ment" because our real need is to unlock the best thinking in our organizations and leverage it to create greater value for all of our problems and customers.  But even with a better name, we still have to do a few key things to really capitalize on our intellectual assets:

1.  We have to make capturing, sharing, and leveraging knowledge an essential priority and hold people accountable.

2.  We have to make it part of the life of our business.

3.  We have to create a simple system for capturing and accessing what we know.

4.  We have to make the system interesting, engaging, thought-provoking, up-to-date, user-driven, and consistently valuable.

5.  We have to build a culture of creating, sharing, and leveraging knowledge that includes idea and insight "forums" and learning events, greater collaboration across business units, and information sharing "awards" and incentives that demonstrate the importance of tapping our collective brilliance.

6.  We have to track and measure our effectiveness in "leveraging" knowledge.


We win in business by sharing what we know inside our organizations and using our "collective genius" to create greater value for customers. When was the last time you shared a great idea with a "distant" colleague?  Maybe it's time to get everything out in the open.

Cheers and have a great week ahead!