Image by Todd Quackenbush

Embracing Innovation.


Someone asked me that question recently and I decided to reflect on the subject.

It is a far more delicate issue than finding where to innovate, specially with so many great ideas that keep popping all around.

The best way for me to describe my thoughts on this matter is to go through some cases that had a huge impact on me in many ways, and hence are not self-explanatory.

It has a tight connection with instinct, which is way more complex to verbalize and above all, are sensitive to time, audience and needs.

The first case starts with a single developer trying to solve the issue of navigating libraries of images and music in a brand new way, interactive and extremely graphical. His name was Andrew Coulter Enright. He came up with what he called CoverFlow and published a beta version of it. As soon as it became available, I started using it, like many other people. It was awesome!

Everything on my Mac suddenly became cooler, since it was a whole lot easier to navigate thousands of references just like index fingering through a Vinyl collection. It gave a whole new meaning to music libraries!

Soon after, Apple purchased the technology of what became known as the core element of a new design era, feeding literally ALL future Apple devices with an unique style for searching contents.

Quite an impressive achievement. At its core, there was a single developer trying to solve his own limitations, feeding his own needs of innovation on a specific area with clear goals.

Parallel to the acquisition, there was another startup creating something quite similar, trying to help solve the tremendously boring web image search, its name: CoolIris.

As soon as it was out I quickly became a beta tester, exploring and spreading the word about this new innovative way of navigating images online. On all emails exchanged with the firm, you could sense the excitement everywhere. On the other side, there were always someone excited and filled with energy.

The firm was growing fast, until it eventually reached a plateau, struggling to find meaning amongst so many new search apps, looking for a spot under the sun.

Their focus and will to pursue the original goals and motivations that led the venture in its early stages was still there. Soon persistence on that strategy brought them a lot of visibility and strong partnerships. Yahoo acquired them for almost U$30 millions and it is at the core of Flickr mobile experiences.

Around 2005 and 2006 all research about multi-touch screen devices turned upside down engineers on tech events around the globe.

Two researches had a really powerful impact.

The first and most impressive were the works of Jefferson Han, a researcher from NYU that presented mind-blowing multi-touch devices. I followed from afar what was unfolding. Jeff started a company called Perceptive Pixel which later on was acquired by Microsoft and gave birth to the Surface ecosystem.

In that same year a firm called FingerWorks also presented the TouchStream keyboards and Gesture Pads technologies. Their products were special and unique product working and swiftly Apple acquired the company’s assets, which became the compass for a multi-touch revolution, the iPhone.

TouchStream Keyboard

Through the years I followed the technology evolution closely to understand the intertwined story that drives big decisions.

Sometimes a venture has all the right elements for success. Usually what I look for is long-term strategy and a passionate mindset all driven by a personal, almost obsessive goal, to solve problems, or change the modus operandi, closely linked with available technology and a passionate drive for that subject the enterprise is involved with.

Its funny that the mere possibility of making something does not guarantee its success and, in most cases it actually prevents it, since its not embedded on the creator’s life and the main objective is to make money.

Over and over again I´ve seen that many success stories were all driven by passion, by dreams of changing lives not on becoming richer.

My conclusion is: Innovation is not for everyone.

A lot is being said about disruption these days, but without the right mindset to seed innovation, nothing will happen. Something might even come to existence, but if not properly nurtured, will soon perish.

I believe this is where an understanding of a corporate addiction is important. Sometimes, to be disruptive, you need to trim some branches out that are keeping you from moving forward or rather, restructure its core to accept innovation.

Sharing the same passion and will to change lives is much harder then finding the people with the necessary skills.

If I were to wrap it all in one single sentence, the primary element to identify success is the catalyst of innovation itself working for the idea or rather, whether he IS the idea itself.