Cyclical Innovation

All of us in Silicon Valley could use more macroeconomic insight to make innovation work. Lets not just drive for short-term exit appeal or stuff our own pockets, but create innovation that has a lasting impact on society.

Remember the Citroën ID19 and DS21? These cars produced in 1955 by the former research arm of Michelin, delivered a comfortable ride by providing hydro-pneumatic self-leveling suspension, directional headlights, and many more advanced technologies that now (fifty years later) seem to make their resurgence in modern luxury cars from BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus.

Likewise, on the technology side, Data General provided in the 1980s integrated chat capabilities with the word processing software that ran on terminal-based mini-computers, not unlike the capabilities of MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Chat, and Google Talk. Many more examples like these exist; I must have seen the technology of MySpace probably twenty times over in the last five years. So, what makes innovation pop or click. What is the right time?

To stay in the automotive realm, I often liken the traction achieved by cars on a dirt road (the entrepreneurial path to success) with the need for the driving wheels to rotate at similar speeds. If the left wheel represents innovation and the right wheel represents market demand, it is easy to imagine how innovation pays off when both wheels move a the same or rapidly alternating speeds (client-server technology was one of those examples where the wheel of technology innovation was turning much faster than the wheel representing market demand). Such uniform cadence provides a fair amount of certainty that the car will follow the entrepreneurial track you intend to pursue.

My point is the following: to investors, I urge you to look at technology and, no matter how old, understand how its benefits apply to a changing market (yes, we need more economist VCs). To entrepreneurs, I urge you to look at markets and adjust the innovation (in most cases downplay it) to meet that demand. All of us in Silicon Valley could use more macroeconomic insight to make innovation work. Lets not just drive for short-term exit appeal or stuff our own pockets, but create innovation that has a lasting impact on society.

P.S.: In the interest of full disclosure, the Citroën DS21 (in white) was my first car. So, jaded by science and technology, I am.

 

Let’s lead the world by example with new rigors of excellence we first and successfully apply to ourselves.

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