.CEO Member Piece: Innovate. Don’t just recreate

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  • “Imagination is more important that knowledge”, Albert Einstein once said. He also said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. It’s important to recognize these simple truths when it comes developing new technologies nowadays.


    For example, I keep about 40 - 50 apps on my mobile phone these days. Of these, I only use about 8 - 10 of them on a regular basis. Most of the others I’m sorry I ever took the time to download and install, even though they were free. Apple and Google offer over 1 million apps apiece through their online distribution channels. That’s over 2 million full software development projects and in some cases fully-fledged startup ventures. That’s a lot of creative, innovative and entrepreneurial brainpower working on reinventing the same wheel in many cases.

    And it’s not just technology startups that suffer from this propensity to recreate what has come before. How many cooking channels, bass fishing and sci-fi channels do we have now? And then there are the travel, news, social and shopping sites, to name just a few. Even our music artists seem to be lost in a market that is saturated with so many different genres it’s almost impossible to break through. And blockbuster movies? When was the last time you saw a truly original, off the beaten path hit like Sixth Sense or Memento?

    As an entrepreneur myself, I know the last thing the founders of a new startup or any new venture want is to delay jumping in with both feet on the development and production process. You want to have something concrete and tangible you can show to the world, or at least to potential investors. But I think it would be much wiser to, painful as it may be, hold off on that stage until you are absolutely sure your venture is truly unique and offers real value where others have failed to do so. That’s not to say you can’t recreate and do a much better job, by the way. Apple did an excellent job here with the iPod, winning market dominance where a slew of MP3 player manufacturers before them had only marginal and short-lived success. That’s because their recreation was so overwhelmingly different and better than the original that it was, in effect, a new creation. So, just make sure your recreation is different enough and brings enough added value that the market will see that too. Resist the temptation to “get coding”, “get filming” or “get recording”. You will be on a better path and will have a greater chance of success if you do.

    Free enterprise, open markets and healthy competition are all truly wonderful concepts. But there comes a point when saturating the market works against us and is ultimately counter-productive. Even though the cream usually rises to the top, it still makes it harder out there to find what it is we really need or want. So the audience for your offering becomes harder to reach because they in turn are becoming weary from searching and wasting their time and money trying products and services that don’t live up to their expectations. They become less trusting and more skeptical, so they are harder to sell to.

    And think of all of those wonderful intellectual resources tied up in “me too” endeavors. Think of what else they could be doing with all that talent and ingenuity. That’s the real shame.

    What are your thoughts on this? Are there other areas where you see the same kind of reinvention dominating the landscape? Are there areas where you see just real innovation at work? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

    Daniel O’Sullivan is the CEO of Software Technology Partners and an Entrepreneur in software engineering and product development. He helps companies and executive teams improve performance and efficiency and ultimately bring about real differentiation through innovation.

  • Daniel O'Sullivan
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