The iPod irrevocably changed the way people listen to music. The design, the functionality, and the wheel influenced the way consumers interact with their favorite artists. Today, the iPod is hailed as one of the most important innovations of the past 25 years. Yet, the iPod offered consumers nothing inherently new.
By the time the iPod arrived on the scene in 2001, mp3 players were old technology. In today’s tech terms, they were ancient. The first portable mp3 players showed up on the market in 1998, and there were 50 different portable mp3 players available for purchase before the iPod came into the market. Basically, Apple added a wheel, but it did not reinvent it. Rather, it innovated an old idea and turned it into something that everyone would come to love. What is more, Apple did not stop. It kept going.
Apple entered an established market and re-invented it. Today’s most successful entrepreneurs will take lessons from what was once America’s most valuable company by learning how to turn old ideas into sparkling new innovations.
Skip the Foundation
Marketing has consumers under the assumption that every new innovation is unique from inception. It is not true. Innovation builds on an existing concept or product and then re-imagines it out in the world. In fact, most innovation that has changed the way we work and live today is just a new combination of or iteration of old ideas.
Take something basic that almost everyone has in their home, like kettles. The electric kettle was based on the old stovetop kettle. Add electricity, and now you can boil more water in less time. However, that was not the end of the road for the electric kettle. Years later, someone developed a prototype based on that electric kettle that allowed tea fanatics to set the temperature they desired. They even created a function to keep the water at that precise temperature for specific period of time. Nowadays, there are new gadgets allowing you to brew tea in your kettle at the right temperature and time. Suddenly, a basic and utilitarian adaptation of an old concept like the kettle became a new, exciting product selling for hundreds of dollars in high-end department stores and specialty shops.
What does this mean for entrepreneurs? It means that innovation means building on an existing foundation and innovating to find a better product. Whether you add new capabilities, include new technologies (an internet-connected kettle, anyone?), or even re-vamp the design into something more beautiful, innovation simply requires adding a single new idea that makes the old idea more meaningful.
Make It Useful
The world is currently on the precipice of several game-changing breakthroughs. One of the biggest breakthroughs in the next ten to twenty years will be in artificial intelligence.
While history will remember the pioneers behind AI, the truth is the average person will not. In fact, the developers of AI, just like the developers of the internet, will be written into history as a specialist interest, not as the global, game-changing pioneers of the future that they really are. Why? Because innovation is simply not about brand new ideas, it is about making them useful for the average person.
The people who develop programs, applications and products that allow the general public to use AI in ways that are meaningful to their everyday lives, are the ones whose names you will know in 20 years. Although AI will change the world, these entrepreneurs are the ones who will make it change your world. That is why they will be remembered. It is also why they will be able to build lasting brands and achieve financial success.
Take this into consideration when you are looking to develop a new idea. Instead of playing the role of Nikola Tesla, play the role of Elon Musk. Worry less about inventing electricity. Worry more about using that technology to power your car. Look out for ways to apply new technologies, or even old technologies, in new and innovative ways that will impact lives.
Innovation is key for developing the next big product, but do not put too much pressure on yourself to be Tim Berners-Lee – he invented the world wide web. Instead, aim to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, whose name requires no further explanation.
The wheel is already there, do not reinvent it. Re-imagine it.
Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com