Innovate This!

This first appeared in Middle Market Growth, the official publication of ACG. Randy Schwimmer’s column, MidPoints, is a regular feature there. You can read MMG by clicking on this link

Who invented the airplane? Depends what you mean by “invent.”

“Birdmen,” a new book by historian Lawrence Goldstone, describes how the Wright Brothers became so obsessed with litigating competitors, they neglected critical flight design improvements that would have ensured success. Others forged ahead with better models, draining the Wrights of their resources and sending Wilbur to an early grave.

Successful innovation isn’t just about getting there first. It’s about meeting market demand. History is replete with other examples-TV, the polio vaccine, the personal computer-of inventors failing to grasp basic business precepts and being overtaken by more nimble follow-on rivals.

Founder-led companies tend toward less bureaucracy, creating easier environments for new product launches. Once customer demand is established, however, sponsors or strategics can provide capital and processes for future growth.