Charles Boulton Innovation Coach

Great Innovations

What are some of the great innovations and innovators and how did they influence our lives? And what can we learn from them, about better ways of doing things, about bringing insights from other disciplines, and about seeing the whole picture?

LLC Pricing of Options Simon Bransfield-Garth Spreadsheet Cadbury Report F1 Post-it Note Joseph Marie Jacquard Michael Hammer Air Southwest Co Debis Papin Car Design Transistor Alfred P Sloan Fedex Scottish Widows

Other examples I admire can be found on the previous version of this page.

Image acknowledgements:
Muscovy Company Seal: Trustees of the British Museum |Black: Nobellaureatesphotographer | Scholes: Dalmatine |Bransfield-Garth: Eight-19 |Bricklin: Luca Lucarini |Frankston: SelfPedia |Fylstra: Fylstra |VisiCalc: Xauxa |Ecclestone: Ryan Bayona |Bouchon loom: Dogcow |Loom: Steve Kimberley |Kellher: J G Howes |737: Dylan Ashe |Safety valve: Fabioruzza |Sason: Holger Ellgaard |Issigonis: DerekvG |Mini: DeFacto |Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain: Alcatel-Lucent/Bell Labs

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Anonymous: The limited liability company which enables investment with limited downside. The first major chartered joint stock company was the Muscovy Company created in 1555 (rooted in the "Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands" of 1551). The first legislation for a limited liability company of a form familiar today was passed in New York on 22 March 1811 - initially only for manufacturing companies. The oldest public company today is Stora Enso Oyj of Finland.
Fisher Black, Myron Scholes and Robert Merton – authors of the most influential models in the pricing of options – underpinning the boom in the global trade in derivatives, despite some acknowledged flaws in the models.
Simon Bransfield-Garth: CEO of Eight-19, developed Indigo and a new business model (scratch cards priced at less than the weekly cost of kerosene) that offers a way to take the start-up’s photovoltaic technology to the world’s biggest off-grid markets for lighting and low voltage applications.
Dan Bricklin, Bob Frankston and Daniel Fylstra: Although they didn’t invent the spread sheet, or the first computer programme to run a spreadsheet, Bricklin and Frankston co-created the first spreadsheet programme optimised for a personal computer and Fylstra suggested it would be a viable product if it could run on an Apple II computer – so creating VisiCalc, the first ‘killer app’.
Sir Adrian Cadbury – chairman of the Committee on the Financial Aspects of Corporate Governance (and Nigel Peace, secretary), which developed the Cadbury Report in 1992, setting a new trend and philosophy of governance and risk management by monitoring process as well as action. This philosophy and the awareness of governance issues have underpinned thinking about corporate risk management for two decades.
Bernie Ecclestone – in the late 1970s recognised the value of TV rights for Formula One as a global sport, so multiplying the value for sponsors and building a virtuous circle of audience and advertisers.
Art Fry, using Spencer Silver’s low-tack adhesive, invented the Post-It note. I find it interesting that the product proved hard to sell – until people had tried it or seen others using it. Only after a give-away campaign in 1980 did the product take off.
Joseph Marie Jacquard – the successful developer in the early 1800s of the programmable silk loom using pasteboard cards with holes punched in them, corresponding with the pattern to be woven. His was a development of Basile Bouchon’s 1725 effort which, although the first industrial application of a programmable machine, could not handle enough threads to be commercially successful. The great significance of the loom lies in its conceptual basis as a programmable device and the use of cards in early computer programming.
Michael Hammer – author of a seminal paper “Reengineering Work: Don’t automate, Obliterate” in the Harvard Business Review in July 1990, starting the Business Process Reengineering movement that shaped operations innovation for decades. And if you reread the paper you also see the key tenets from more than twenty years ago that underpin the more recent movement of ‘Lean’.
Rollin King and Herb Kelleher – founders of Air Southwest Co (March 16 1967), later to become Southwest Airlines, the first low-cost carrier and the model for a whole new segment of the industry
Denis Papin: Inventor of the pressure relief valve, for his ‘steam digester’ (pressure cooker) in 1679, and later developed for steam engines and then across the chemical industry – a core safety device developed and used now for more than 300 years. (BTW – watching the valve lift and fall under pressure gave him an idea for a steam engine – but he didn’t pursue it.)
George Selden – awarded the first patent for a car in 1895, a three cylinder transverse engine design; Gunnar Ljungström and Sixten Sason, designers of the Saab 92, the first production transverse engine car and, of course, Alec Issigonis, the designer of the most famous use of transverse engine packaging in the space-efficient and market-transforming Mini.
William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain of the Bell Labs invented the transistor in 1947, replacing the vacuum valve and kick-starting the modern electronics industry. Seven Nobel Prizes are associated with the Lab and its staff have been responsible for a stunning range of developments – including lasers and UNIX. In 2008, Alcatel-Lucent announced it was pulling out of basic science research to focus on more immediately marketable technologies.
Alfred P Sloan – president, CEO and chairman of General Motors from 1923 to 1956 and credited with designing the federated autonomous divisional organisation structure and strategic planning processes that became a blueprint for multinationals for decades afterwards. He also oversaw an early example of market segmentation and product portfolio management from across the divisions to fill the segments
Frederick Smith – founder of Fedex (first flight on 17 April 1973) and of the overnight parcel delivery industry. Famously, he only got a ‘C’ from Yale University for the paper in which he proposed the concept.
Dr Alexander Webster (driving force) and Dr Robert Wallace and Colin Maclaurin (the mathematicians and thus actuaries) behind the “Church of Scotland Ministers’ and Scottish University Professors’ Widows’ Fund”, established in 1743 – the first fund designed to earn a return on the premiums and so become the first self-supporting insurance fund. (BTW, today’s Scottish Widows plc has separate organisational origins.)