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https://econsultancy.com/images/awards-logo.png?1329307452As we learned in our previous post, our Innovation Awards shortlist candidates all thought that an ability to learn from past mistakes was just as important as a vision of the future when trying to advance your business.

It’s not always mistakes we learn from though, and business innovation is as much about evolution as revolution.

Today we’re asking our expert panel which companies, products and ideas from the past have truly inspired them, and which ones they wished they’d had a hand in…

Which 'innovation' from the past 30 years do you wish you'd come up with?

We received an amazing response to this question, with answers that included software, hardware, gizmos, gadgets, and even a few SciFi pipe dreams, but digital and communications tech were by far the most popular choices. 

A large number of entrants (Including Kieran Kilmartin of Pitney Bowes software, who also opted for “A sausage that doesn’t set off the smoke alarm when you grill it…”) plumped for the Mobile Phone.

Chris Ezekiel, Owner  of Creative Virtual Ltd had this to say on the now ubiquitous handheld:

We run our businesses and lives from them – and they are never further than an arm's reach away wherever we are and whatever we’re doing. The anxiety/panic on somebody’s face when they realise that they might have lost their phone highlights the importance they now have in our lives. They enable us to stay connected with the world wherever we are.

For example, I'm writing this on a ski lift in the Swiss Alps, and I was on a conference call the other day whilst snowboarding! I’m sure many people will say the internet is the most important innovation from the past 30 years, and of course smartphones rely on the internet, but the mobile phone is just as important to the people that just use them for calls/text messaging.

Maani Safa is Innovation Director at Somo. He also felt the mobile was a true game-changer, along with another device we’d like to see around the office (preferably before 2015…): 

Without question the invention I am still waiting to come to reality is the Hoverboard from Back To The Future.

Of the inventions that have actually made it to market I guess it's kind of obvious for someone immersed in mobile, but ‘the mobile’ is clearly a device that has such a massive impact on so many people - I wish it were mine!

Of course, technically the first (briefcase-size) ‘mobile’ popped up in 1973, which put it just outside our three-decade remit, but we’re not sticklers here, especially when it comes to great ideas. 

Epiphany’s MD Rob Shaw pointed this out, and added: 

In the last 30 years I’d say the smartphone.  Whether you’re an Apple fan or an Android person the impact of the smartphone in modern culture is massive.  I can’t think of another technology that has become so relied upon and used for such a diverse number of reasons in such a short period of time.  

From calls to emails to music to maps and navigation and now m-commerce and social media our reliance on a single piece of technology is incredible.

The smartphone was a popular choice, and a number of respondents delved into its evolution (although Stickeyes’ Paul Huggett “Missed programming the A-Team theme tune into his ancient brick!”). 

Luke Griffiths, General Manager UK at e-Dialog mentioned a popular music player: 

The iPod – the device that started the entire “i” revolution and which helped to launch the developments of smartphones and tablet computing.

(Luke wasn’t the only one to mention portable music players. Jake Lingwood of Ebury Publishing/Random House also chimed in with “The Walkman was pretty nifty!”)

Unsurprisingly, the ‘I’ brand featured heavily in responses, as did its parent company Apple. 

Nick Gee, Mobile Director at Auto Trader:

The iPhone – a real step change from what users already had and knew.  It’s brought the web to mobile. The interface really made it more accessible for non-tech users. 

David Loughnan, Managing Director at Clicked Creative:

The first truly, usable touchscreen technology launched by Apple for the iPhone. Nothing out there has comes close to it since 2007.

Nishma Rob is Business Development & Marketing Director for I Spy Marketing. He summed up the ideals that made Apple products such a popular, inspiring choice:

In the past 30 years, there is one brand that we most admire and a man that we can only aspire to be like.  That’s Apple and Steve Jobs.  We don’t think that there is any need to explain any more here, he and the organisation are the most exemplary example of innovation the world has ever seen.

Of course, Apple wasn’t the only global company to feature prominently in the minds of our innovators. 

Glen Conybeare is Chief Commercial Officer at Stickyeyes. He summed up something a lot of people were thinking – wishing he’d had a hand in:

A website that allows people to find stuff easily that maybe I could sell advertising on one day….

The Big G was another hugely popular choice, Richard Wheaton from Neo@Ogilvy wished he’d come up with the Google Search Algorythm, While Covario’s Global Account Manager Megan Bradley told us: 

Hands down - Google. If only I were that smart!

In addition to search, social media was a common choice, with one large blue logo featuring prominently in the answers: 

Bobby Healy, CTO at CarTrawler:

Facebook. No other business comes close in terms of the mountain of data it sits on waiting to be converted to revenue. And no other online business has come close to matching the average time spent by users on their site.

I think we’re only at phase 1 of the potential of Facebook, and it will be very interesting to watch the evolution of that. It’s one of the very rare cases where a simple innovation (liking and tagging) has created an almost impenetrable market share – a simple case of first mover takes all; Just ask the folks at Bebo, Hi5, studiVZ etc.

Bobby’s answer was echoed by many, with iVoucher’s Chris Underhill and isango!’s Deepak Jha both opting for the world’s largest social network, and with good reason. Luca Benini Managing Director, Europe at Buddy Media cut to brass tacks: 

Did you see how much Facebook filed its IPO for? I wish that were me, sure!

Facebook wasn’t the only social network to feature however. Yahoo! EMEA Ad Tech Director Herberty Dazo was one of many who mentioned Twitter, while PrismaStar’s MD/COO Jonathan Horden commented on social in general: 

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0001/6066/Jon-Horden_-primastar.jpgSocial media has changed our lives with the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. The way in which these websites have evolved over the years is a true reflection of innovation.

Social networking has changed the way we get our news, how we do business, how we meet and stay in touch with each other, what we reveal to the world, and what we choose to influence. Social media provides a way of engaging with people across the globe, this is what makes communication faster and is in my opinion a life changing innovation.

In addition to specific platforms, the wonderful world wide web was another big favourite:

I personally think the internet is the most amazing thing since, well, I guess, 30 years ago .It’s just changed the lives of so many people - how we do things, how we think.  It is *the* foundational innovation that has enabled accelerated growth in all other areas. Imagine doing any kind of research or other work without the internet.  

Sissie Hsiao, Google Analytics:

How would people work with each other?  Share ideas?  Communicate globally? The internet has opened the doors for so many amazing developments, and I think we’ve only seen the beginning.

Of course, another characteristic of great innovators is the ability to look at things from a unique angle, so in addition to the big hitters, answers also included a number of bleeding-edge innovations and the occasional left-field personal choice.

Here’s a quick selection of some stand-out individual choices… and a few that made us laugh: 

Lisa Wood, Head of Marketing HSBC Expat:

lisa woodNike Plus. This was the first time I think that a company had really demonstrated that digital could be part of the product, adding marketing value in its own right.  The name means Nike ‘Plus’ iPod but in a wider sense, when you bought the product you were getting a pair of running shoes +  technology + data visualisation + social networking.  

Suddenly you could map your runs, get precise data on your performance and converse and compete with a community of likeminded individuals.  Living in London, you could race a friend in New York and swap results at the end of your run.  How could a different sole , or a new fabric, compete with that?


“Micro-scooter.” - Seth Richardson CEO DC Storm

 “Graphene – it’s going to change everything! “- William Smyth, Head of Digital at OMD UK

 Malcolm Poynton, Chief Creative Officer at SapientNitro:

Ecovative Design. If I had money to invest, I’d be investing in these guys who ‘grow’ packaging out of mycelium, the thread-like vegetative part of fungus, and are trying to change the world by eradicating polystyrene. The product can be applied to all kinds of consumer and industrial uses, as well as its core EcoCradle packaging. It’s an amazing innovation because, while we knew we could grow things from mycelium, and we had organic packaging from recycled materials, Ecovative Design combines the two is superior and scalable ways.

Another extraordinary innovation is Raspberry Pi, a $25 single board PC that aims to democratise the computer so that kids can muck around with them. We had Apple come out of the garage computing boom of the 70s. Who gets there hands all over computers now? No one. It’s like glorified Lego; you can do anything with a computer. It’s up to you and your imagination.

“Remington Fuzz-Away!” - Alastair Cole, Head of Creative Services at Essence Digital

Jonathan Cook, Head of new Media at Valtech:

The concept of utilising  idle processing time on gaming machines in people’s homes, to combat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Cancer and Parkinsons disease, by combining to form one of the world’s largest supercomputers is amazing.

Charlie Rowan, Whishin:

It hasn’t changed the world but I love the geekiness of Hawk-Eye. It has changed the way we watch cricket and tennis and provides great stats. It would have been a lot of fun developing.

“The Nimbus 2000.” - Toby Smeeton,Managing Director at Sunday

A reverence for historical developments (including everything from the microchip to Microsoft Windows) combined with a sense of the playful, the unique and the good old fashioned fun characterized our panel’s choices. Do you agree with them? Which developments do you wish you’d helped create? As always we invite your comments. 

Our answers panel is comprised of shortlisted candidates for this year’s Innovation Awards. We’ll be presenting the awards at the Hilton Park Lane in London on February 23rd. If you’d like to attend, then check out our events page to book your place now

Matt Owen

Published 20 February, 2012 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

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Will Buckley

Google is the obvious answer for me. I think most people would say Google.

over 3 years ago

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