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!

Time to Try Harder

Greetings.  Last week I wrote about differentiation and how an on-line appliance parts distributor was using YouTube videos to add a valuable service component to its product sales.  It's a smart idea and I received feedback from many readers who were struck by how this simple tool could help their companies stand out from the crowd.  The key, of course, is to be compellingly different in ways that really matter to customers.  And since this topic is so important to business success, I thought it might be fun to continue the theme by reporting on an interesting "non-event" that occurred at this year's Consumer Electronic's show in Las Vegas.  Needless to say, the topic of product differentiation was front and center as new technologies and companies battled for attention.  And, in a world in which change happens faster every day, there's plenty of pressure to create the next big thing almost instantly. Which makes Sony's entry into the hot tablet PC market a bit confusing.  Because instead of unveiling a remarkable new product, the company simply stated that it intended to be No. 2 behind Apple's iPad by the end of 2011.

It was an announcement that made a lot of smart people wonder what they'd been smoking. 

Doesn't this seem like "deja vu all over again?"  Because it bears a striking similarity to another huge opportunity that Sony missed ten years ago.  In case you forgot, or simply aren't old enough to remember, Sony literally invented the world of personal and portable entertainment in 1979 when it launched the Walkman. At the time it was a marvel of modern invention–a music device that enabled users to play their favorite cassettes anywhere.  And it became so popular that Sony sold more than 350,000,000 of them.  But when it came time for the world of music to go digital, this world-class electronics company missed the mark offering hardly a trace of competition to the iPod.  And now they're promoting what appears to be an imaginary tablet PC.  It's hard enough to win market share with a remarkably different product–especially when you're late to the game and the market leader is so awesome.  But winning significant market share with the promise of a product, and no sense of how it might be remarkably different, doesn't seem like a winning proposition.

Is it possible that the dog ate their homework?

Dog-ate-my-homework

We win in business and in life when we are really different in ways that matter to customers.  But first we have to be real.

Cheers!

Playing to Your Audience

Greetings.  As the extended school break draws to a close–i.e., the one caused by the recent "Snowpocalyse" here in Washington–I've had the exciting opportunity to shuttle our kids and many of their friends to rescheduled soccer matches, swim team practices, movies, and a variety of "play" dates.  In the process, I've also had the opportunity to listen to a lot of their music on CDs, iPods, the Pandora music service, and Hot 99.5–their current radio station of choice.  And, while I actually enjoy listening to many of their songs, I realize that I'm not their target audience. To put things in perspective, I grew up in the era of the Beatles, the Stones, and the amazing early years of Motown.  So today's music is a bit of a stretch for me with songs like:   

  • "Evacuate the Dance Floor" by Cascada
  • "Paparazzi" and "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga
  • "Down" by Jay Sean featuring Lil Wayne
  • "Empire State of Mind" by Jay Z and Alicia Keys
  • "You Belong With Me" by Taylor Swift
  • "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas
  • "TiK ToK" by Ke$ha

As well as a host of other songs that seem to have been memorized by almost every teenager and pre-teen on our side of the planet.  Of course, it's not incredibly hard to memorize the most popular songs when they're played over and over again.    

But it did get me thinking about whether or not our companies and organizations really resonate with the folks we desire to serve and whether we really understand who are target audiences are.  Whether the stuff we offer has a strong enough beat and catchy enough lyrics to entice them to join in and make us a part of their daily routine.  Whether the genius and value we offer is being delivered in a systematic way that engages and energizes them.  And whether we keep bringing them new "tunes" or ideas that are worth their time and attention. 

Paparazzi-lady-gaga1 

A big part of winning in business is making a visceral connection with customers.   And this means really understanding them and their new world.  Times change, and so do tastes in music.  Maybe it's a good time to turn on a different radio station just to make sure that you and your colleagues are keeping up.    

Cheers!