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?

Hay Yoke Boeing 747 Chongquing W Edward Deming Light Bulb Fibonacci Henry Ford Penny Black Visa card Cosimo Medici Burdock McLaren Rocket Sled LDV Bernard Vonderschmitt

Image acknowledgements:
Hay: Jens Jäpel | Yoke: Wolfgang Sauber | Boeing 747: "danleo" | Motorcycle: Steve Webel | Deming: FDA | Edison’s light bulb: Sergio Caltagirone | Spiral aloe: J Brew | Henry Ford: Library of Congress | Burdock: Paul Henjum | McLaren: Dan Smith | Visa card: "Nebrot"

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The management of hay – the discovery that transformed the number and health of stock that can be kept alive throughout the winter (or summer) – hence enabling a tradable surplus and a better quality of life.
The invention and development of the yoke - to get power from animals, a big development in power and energy
Boeing - who saw that an alternative to going faster (Concorde) was to move more people at a time and so converted a freighter design into the world's most successful airliner - the 747.
Chongquing and the motorcycle manufacturing cluster - a place where many co-operating suppliers provide modular parts for motorcycles and, collectively, many assemblers make up the world's largest motorcycle producer
W. Edward Deming - with his focus on continuous improvement and quantified assessment of performance, surely the godfather of incremental innovation
Thomas Edison - prolific inventor, establishing the first industrial research laboratory (Menlo Park), but more importantly a businessman who understood the need for a complete value chain and so invested in electricity generation and distribution as well as the light bulb
Fibonacci - who brought Arabic numbers to Italy around 1200 and explained how they could be used to more easily calculate currency trading and interest rates (and introduced the famous sequence that describes some beautiful natural patterns)
Henry Ford - "If I'd asked my customers what they wanted they would have asked for a faster horse", so articulating a profound truth in radical innovation
Rowland Hill - who changed the postal charging systems from distance to weight, invented the pre-paid stamp, and so transformed the postal system
Dee Hock - who developed the governance system that enabled VISA to grow so successfully; a governance that balances competition and collaboration between participating banks and merchants leading to an organisation that demonstrates many of the attributes of complex systems
Cosimo Medici - who understood how diversification reduces risk and built a portfolio of loans at interest rates that dominated the market, so building the famous financial (and political) dynasty
George de Mestral - the inventor of Velcro, perhaps the best known example of biomimicry; innovation that emulates nature's solutions to problems
Malcolm Smith, Penske and McLaren - for the invention and development of the 'inerter', a fundamentally new suspension component, indeed the first profoundly new mechanical component since the damper
Colonel John Stapp - whose studies into deceleration (riding a rocket powered sled and experiencing up to 46G) was key to the mandating of seatbelts and enhancing accident survivability, and who popularised Murphy's Law by using it in a press conference!
Leonardo da Vinci - undoubtedly creative and of awesome scope, but the lack of a development pathway meant much of his work was never implemented, so not effective innovation
Bernard Vonderschmitt - inventor of the fabless semiconductor business model, illustrating how to choose the most valuable part of an economic ecology, and setting a precedent for so many others