December 2, 2004
Excerpts: 10 Lessons from History's Innovators - Part IX
Lesson #8 - SUCCESS IS RISKY. Georges Doriot was fond of saying that the most dangerous moment in the life of a company was when it had succeeded. His experience told him that this was when the company would customarily stop innovating, whereas only continual improvement and innovation could protect it from imitators. Ken Olsen both taught and received the lesson. He kept innovating with his minicomputers so that when the imitative competition emerged, he was ready to leapfrog with a wholly new, less expensive design. Then he was blindsided by the personal computer. Similarly, CNN allowed itself to be overtaken by Fox News. And Edison got stuck on direct current and was overtaken by George Westinghouse. Large corporations are especially vulnerable because they are not natural risk takers. Gordon Moore, leaving Fairchild to start up Intel, thought of large corporations as oil tankers, very hard to turn on a dime. Bureaucracies breed elaborate defenses. Innovators are by definition barrier-breaking troublemakers. Every company needs them and few tolerate them. From the book THEY MADE AMERICA by Harold Evans, with Gail Buckland and David Lefer. (c) 2004 Little, Brown & Co.