[Ed: don’t you mean aFORD it? 🙂 ]
Ford assembly line
8. The Wright Brothers and the airplane
Humankind has been dreaming of flight for eons. From Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches of flying machines to the story of Icarus, people have desired to rid themselves of the shackles of gravity.
And the Wright Brothers were not the only people of their time to try and develop a machine capable of powered flight.
George Cayley was the first person to move from designs involving flapping like birds to a “fixed wing” design. Another engineer called Otto Lilienthal then used a lot of those designs to create actual gliders with fixed wings and testing them, producing a lot of data which the Wright Brothers would subsequently use.
Additionally, the Wright Brothers were able to use another recent invention from the time: the internal combustion engine from automobiles. They were around at just the right time when this became available.
Their true innovation was in their designs which allowed their plane to actually be steered and controlled. And the rest is history.
9. Philo Farnsworth and the TV
Philo T Farnsworth
An excellent example of an invention that was only possible thanks to numerous other inventions across industries.
Farnsworth was able to take the developments of the cathode ray tube (by Ferdinand Braun) and combine it with a way to scan images using electrons which he apparently began thinking of in high school.
His design also outperformed the other competing TV technology at the time: mechanical TV.
10. Bill Gates and the Graphical User Interface
Early computer systems were primarily command-line driven, meaning you needed to know all of the inputs to type into a keyboard to tell the machine what you wanted it to do.
Many people credit Microsoft Windows with introducing the world to the Graphical User Interface (GUI), where you can use a mouse to click on-screen objects to tell it what to do, making the whole process much more user-friendly.
However, a lot of the progress in GUI development happened much earlier. A pioneer was Douglas Engelbart, who demonstrated an Operating System with a mouse pointer in 1968. This idea was then taken up by Xerox, who released their Alto computers which were the first with a mouse and GUI.
As legends go, Apple’s Steve Jobs saw an Alto while visiting Xerox’s PARC research centre and inspired him to make sure the Apple Macintosh would have a GUI, the first mass-market GUI computers. This then paved the way for the more business-focussed Microsoft Windows Operating System, which took the idea truly mainstream.
Ahh, my youth. I grew up on Windows 3.1
Invention is a process that continuously builds on what came before it. While an individual may have a stroke of genius, these moments never happen in a vaccuum.
So while you are thinking of innovations in your company, just remember that you don’t need to always start from scratch.
Often, the best innovations are the ones which take previous ideas and find new ways to add value that the customers love.