Ahead of the Curve: Innovation beats mediocrity

Innovation rules. I was stoned in '04 (I mean, stones were thrown at me) for saying that. But in '05, AMD, Apple, RIM, Nokia, and a few others illustrated my case ably. That's why I frequently chose to write about those companies and their products.

In 2006, I have little doubt we'll see the soul of my brand of innovation appear again, which I'll summarize in a phrase that might make you wince: Never take customers for granted. That's it. If you adopt that as a mantra, you'll either succeed and stay successful or you'll go out of business because you say it but don't really believe it.

If you believe it, innovation -- which is secretly what people with money to spend want every time they whip out their checkbooks -- occurs naturally. There are other ingredients to success through innovation such as patience, curiosity, skill, and opportunity, but the belief that your customers have a deep-seated desire to transcend the status quo trumps the rest. If you don't have that in your bones, get out of the industry and go into politics.

As a practitioner of innovation as a success strategy, you can't beat AMD, the darling of my column for 2005. AMD's Opteron and AMD64 CPU technology are Space Age stuff. They turned Intel's road map, from mobile to Itanium 2, into a personal-hygiene accessory. But AMD64 dates back to 1999. Back then, would you have blueprinted a 64-bit PC processor with a 1GHz serial system bus, on-chip memory controllers, and non-uniform memory access for an entry-level rack server?

Hell no, which is why Intel laughed itself sick over the idea. AMD's spec did everything but lay the Opteron chip mask on Intel's doorstep. If Intel had the least inkling that PC server customers would want, or even comprehend, what AMD was proposing, Intel had plenty of time to jump AMD on x86-64 technology. And AMD would be RIP.

Perhaps Intel figured that pipsqueak AMD could never get AMD64 built, but I think it's more likely that Intel took for granted that its customers would acquiesce to the safety of mediocrity -- something "good enough" created by someone who knows they're capable of far better and believes you're enough of a chump to settle for technology on cruise control. I call it the Tin Standard -- which people may be willing to accept, but only if they don't know silver or gold exist.

The greatest innovators take the profit and prestige accrued from getting ahead of the game and invest in the next level of advanced technology. Of course, that strategy can go too far. You could argue that Intel's Itanium flopped due to a level of innovation that crossed over into hubris -- the arrogance of a market leader that thought it could take its customers anywhere it wanted to go, backward compatibility be damned. It left an opening a mile wide for a customer-focused innovator like AMD.

Looking back on 2005, however, even Intel deserves a nod for reverse-innovation, if you will, when the company snatched a simpler, saner Pentium CPU core from a spin-off mobile project.

It would be a shame if innovation fell out of fashion again because those players that can't do it right convince the market that mediocrity is "industry standard" and safe. It would be a shame, but it would be possible only if the industry takes you for granted. My hope is that vendors have learned enough from recent history to realize that underestimating customers may be the highest risk strategy of all.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tom Yager

Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?