Innovate or Die

Innovation
Innovation

Over the years, I have chosen to illustrate stories of successful innovation. I write about companies that I personally know have done something highly creative and innovative to grow new revenue or solve some other major barrier to success, from hiring to legal issues.

But now I’m opening this opportunity to all readers who are interested in having their company featured in my column.

All you have to do is send me a one-paragraph description, of less than 500 words, of what your company did innovatively that successfully grew new revenues or solved a major challenge.

If your company is selected, I will interview you in-depth and then feature you in my column. Feel free to submit your paragraph to me at dan@bizstarts.com; my cell number is 414-430-2204 if you have any questions.

Now, here as an example that illustrates the single most important step in innovation: clearly identify the problem or challenge/opportunity that needs to be solved.

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union’s Sputnik was launched into orbit. It was the first man-made satellite.

It stunned Americans and created demand to keep up with the Soviets. The biggest worry was the military advantage that came with the USSR owning the space above us.

President Dwight Eisenhower used the crisis as an opportunity to launch an American effort to compete with the Soviets in the space race.

According to Walter Isaacson in the book “The Innovators,” the president assembled a team of scientists to work on a plan to launch satellites into space under the auspices of the Pentagon.

The scientists made it clear that this goal could not be accomplished without collaboration among some of the greatest research scientists in America and leading manufacturing companies in the private sector.

So in 1958, MIT’s Joseph C.R. Licklider recruited a team to create the possibility of time-sharing and real-time activity among scientists, industry and the military.

It led to the invention of connecting electronically through the Intergalactic Computer Network.

But researchers were reluctant to join the network because they were worried about sharing their computer research with anyone. That led to the creation of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which was a series of minicomputers that would do the routing, at the same time erecting a wall to all the research.

In order to send large amounts of research information, they created a method of breaking messages into small units dubbed “packets.” That invention could be credited to Paul Baran of Rand Corp. Breaking large information into transmittable size led to the notion of bits, and we are familiar with that concept today.

Despite all that progress, the ARPANET was still not the internet.

It took the collaborative research of Harvard’s Bob Metcalfe to create a coaxial cable that provided the high bandwidth for a system he named Ethernet. Step-by-step, the internet was being built. At some point, they realized that every computer needed to adopt the same method and template for addressing the incoming packets of information.

The result was the internet protocol (IP) and it can be recognized by the https:// that precedes websites.

Bottom line is that the internet then became a reality. It was built partly by the government, partly by private firms, partly by scientists and loosely interacted through the network finally called the internet.

It took until the 1980s for the internet to move from basically a “gated community” open to primary researchers at military and academic institutions to civilian counterparts across the United States and then the globe. You can relax, your creative breakthrough that helps your company does not have to be as dramatic as the creation of the internet!

I look forward to hearing about your creative breakthroughs and how they led to disruptive services or technology.

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Dan Steininger
Dan Steininger is the president and founder of BizStarts. He is also the president of Steininger & Associates. The firm focuses on teaching the tools of innovation to drive growth for companies in all sectors of the economy. Steininger is a former president and CEO of Catholic Financial Life and a graduate of Marquette University and Boston University's School of Law.