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Marker
Pop business for the intelligent reader. A publication from Medium.

Innovation

In Marker. More on Medium.

Image courtesy of the author

That’s designer and technologist John Maeda reflecting on the nature of disruptive innovation and their timescales. Whether it’s technologies with broad, sweeping applications that upend society — like what happened with the shift from steam power to electricity — to more specific inventions like the 1990s hard disk world, he offers up a meditation “when thinking about being disrupted.” In addition to citing the late Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, he unearths the source paper behind a conference talk he attended in the Before Times called, “Dynamo and the Computer: The Productivity Paradox” by Stanford economist Paul David, published…


Number of the Day

One tech company filed the most. And it wasn’t Google.

Photo illustration with text “1% The decline in the number of patents granted in the United States last year. “
Photo illustration with text “1% The decline in the number of patents granted in the United States last year. “
Photo illustration, source: d-l-b/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty

1%: That’s the approximate decline in the number of patents granted in the United States last year, according to TechCrunch.

The drop in the number of patents granted — from 354,428 in 2019 to 352,013 — seems likely to be a side effect of the pandemic’s general drag on the economy, but it was milder than expected. Data tracker IFI CLAIMS Patent Services notes that the patent figure, which can be taken as a rough proxy for innovation, has been trending upward for a decade; even the slightly lower number in 2020 is 13% higher than the 2018 figure. And…


What We’re Reading

Some of the great articles on Medium that we’ve been reading and talking about. Happy reading (and highlighting)!

JOSH EDELSON / Contributor

With Thanksgiving behind us, I’ve gone full throttle on getting my holiday gifts in order, which inevitably means I’m mining the web for the best online deals. One thing I’ve noticed (and come to dread) when clicking the ‘Checkout Cart’ button is the few extra dollars tacked on for shipping, and boy, do the prices vary. It all makes sense, though, when you read David H. Freedman’s feature in Marker on how FedEx and other competitors are duking it out with Amazon over the cost of shipping. “FedEx may be at the biggest risk of being left behind by the…


Off Brand

How companies like Canon are cashing in on the shortage boom

A flower grows from the lens of a Canon camera.
A flower grows from the lens of a Canon camera.
Illustration: Guillem Casasus

Just a few weeks into the pandemic lockdowns, as toilet paper and Clorox wipes were becoming a rarified luxury, another shortage quietly emerged: webcams. Lots of people, suddenly thrust into the now-familiar world of constant Zoom calls, remote classrooms, and videoconferences, were scrambling to buy what had previously been a sleepy product, and there weren’t enough webcams to go around.

Canon, the camera-maker, spotted this shortage early — and saw an unexpected opportunity.

To be clear, Canon did not make webcams, and has no plans to start. But within three weeks its engineering and software teams developed free software that…


Business leaders ready to return to normal are operating with a losing strategy that could put them out of business

A cloud on a black background is superimposed over a US dollar bill.
A cloud on a black background is superimposed over a US dollar bill.
Image: John Lund/Photodisc/Getty Images

In times of crisis, companies innovate out of necessity. When the crisis is over, the urgency to act wanes, and we come to operate under a new version of “business as usual.” But are all the new ways of doing business necessarily better than the old ways? And, more importantly, which new systems are only Band-Aids for persistent and serious injury?

The businesses that think everything will go back to “the way things were” are operating on a losing strategy that could put them out of business. Customer behaviors will have changed irrevocably; old markets will close, and new ones…


Illustrations: Sisi Yu

The tech industry is built on serendipity. If workers flee the Bay Area, what’s left?

There may be no richer Silicon Valley lore: It was 2004, Mark Zuckerberg’s summer of craziness. At 20, he and five buddies had rented a Palo Alto home, where they partied and wrote code for Facebook. One day, as Zuckerberg and the guys were strolling the neighborhood, he saw a familiar face. It was Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, the music sharing service. By coincidence, Parker, at loose ends and contemplating his next move, was staying at his girlfriend’s parents’ house, just up the street from the Facebook pad. The very next week, the big-thinking, smooth-talking Parker moved in…


American companies used to be at the cutting edge of science and technology. Not anymore.

General Electric Research Laboratory. Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection

American businesses have had a long history of being at the cutting edge of technology. Corporate labs at GE, DuPont, and AT&T’s Bell Labs were responsible for significant advances in science and technology in the 20th century, leading the development of innovations like integrated circuits, plastics, and synthetic fibers, which in turn became strong drivers of economic growth.

But are American businesses still as innovative as they used to be? A recent paper by professors at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business argues that a transition away from formal corporate research toward a more diffuse innovation ecosystem driven by startups…


When old routines are disrupted, it’s easier than ever to take risks

Colorful sparks fly out of the palm of a hand, with a silhouette of a keyhole inside.
Colorful sparks fly out of the palm of a hand, with a silhouette of a keyhole inside.
Image: Yagi Studio/Stone/Getty Images

Social media feeds during the pandemic have been inundated with people pursuing new creative activities like learning foreign languages, starting a TikTok account, developing calligraphy skills, or adventures in sourdough baking. Creativity is booming everywhere you look, including within companies. As The Economist noted, “the pandemic is liberating firms to experiment with radical new ideas.”

Consider Kevin and Laurie Hommema, a married doctor and research and development scientist who came up with a way to disinfect medical masks. It all started during a conversation following dinner at their home in Columbus, Ohio, where they live with their two young daughters…


Why making a better product can sometimes sink your company

Photo: Kelvin Murray

“I’m a problem solver,” the innovation manager at my first job used to say. “You give me a problem, I’ll give you a solution. That’s why people keep hiring me.”

He was right on all counts. People gave him problems, he solved those problems, and people kept hiring him. However, the more I got into the science of innovating, the more I realized this innovation manager wasn’t actually innovating at all. Sure, he would do whatever people told him to — but he never knew why he was doing it. He took the problem as a given. …


We are probably blowing their significance out of proportion

Photo: Michael H/Getty Images

In late 2013 Cowboy Ventures did an analysis of U.S.-based tech companies started in the last 10 years, now valued at $1 billion. They found 39 of these companies. They called them the “Unicorn Club.”

The article summarized 10 key learnings from the Unicorn club. Surprisingly, one of the “learnings” said that “the ‘big pivot’ after starting with a different initial product is an outlier. Nearly 90 percent of companies are working on their original product vision. The four ‘pivots’ after a different initial product were all in consumer companies (Groupon, Instagram, Pinterest and Fab).”

One of my students sent…

Marker

Pop business for the intelligent reader. A publication from Medium.

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