Pioneers get arrows in their backs…

Apple’s great timing

Two recent articles have heralded Steven Jobs’ excellent timing of innovation:

  • David Aaker’s article on his blog asked “Why wasn’t the iPod a Sony brand?”: As David relates, Sony had launched two digit players two years earlier, but the technology was not yet right. Apple waited then launched when affordable flash memory was available. Article: WhyNotSony
  • “How Apple Foot-Dragged to Victory” by HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. (WSJ), notes that: “Mr. Jobs’s slowness is the key to Apple’s success. His focus on the device, his emphasis on perfecting the user experience, meant holding back, not overreaching. The iPod would only be a music player. The iPhone and iPad would be Web-browsing devices that wouldn’t play most of the video on the Web… And notice that each of these device categories had been around for five or 10 years by the time Apple entered (clobbered) them.”

First mover advantage?

Is Steven Jobs the exception to the well-known “first mover advantage?” We all know how pioneers such as Apple Computer (in PCs), Gillette (in safety razors), Hewlett-Packard (laser printers), and Microsoft (PC operating systems) commanded long term market dominance by being first…

However in reality none of those firms in the previous list was first…or second…or third to market! Most entered the market 3-5 years or more after the first entrants. Bill Gates bought DOS on the cheap after he sold IBM on the product! As Tellis and Golder point out in their book Will and Vision, most of the companies we assume were first to market have simply benefitted from “survival bias” or “the-winners-write-history” syndrome.

If it weren’t for the movie The Social Network within a decade or so we would all probably have come to believe that at least some key attribute of Facebook was introduced by Zuckerberg; and would have forgotten Geocities, Friendster, MySpace, and ConnectU (Winklevoss twins). [And of course even the W twins weren’t the first to think of marrying MySpace features to elite college .edu addresses…]

Will and Vision

It turns out that Pioneers often do end up with arrows in their backs and latecomers win the categories. What factors decide winners? Tellis and Golder explore key factors. Two of the biggest are persistence and continual innovation in response to market feedback. Tellis and Golder provide further support of principles underlying:

  • Probe-and-learn
  • Experimentation or rapid prototyping
  • Lean Startups
  • Effectuation
  • Agile development

Strongly recommended:

Book by Tellis and Golder: Will & Vision: How Latecomers Grow to Dominate Markets

This entry was posted in effectuation, entrepreneurship, experiential innovation, Experiment, Ideation, Slow Burn Entrepreneurship and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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