Breakthroughs are more than a flash of brilliance
Last week, the inventors of the Universal Product Code were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Norman Woodland and Bernard Silver received the patent for the first bar code technology in 1952, but the first UPC scan in a store didn’t occur until 1974.
What took so long?
When Woodland and Silver invented the code there was no practical way to read it, IBM explained in a press release announcing the award. Woodland later joined IBM and worked with a team of researchers to develop a laser scanner that could read the bar code. Then it took time for a grocery store task force to adopt a point-of-sale system using a scanner to read bar codes. Today, bar codes are virtually everywhere.
The lesson: It takes more than a good idea to be successful.
Don’t allow opportunities to slip through your hands. Adopt these habits:
- Take notes—and review them. An idea that’s impractical today could be an ideal solution in a year, when technology or other factors change.
- Collaborate. Successful innovations often result from several people contributing their different areas of expertise.
- Expand your viewpoints. Hobbies don’t just provide a break from work. Often innovators see a connection they might otherwise have missed.
- Improve on what already exists. Thomas Edison’s team didn’t invent the lightbulb; it perfected the product. Portable music players existed before the iPod became the breakout device.
- Sell your idea. Don’t allow naysayers to discourage you. When others declared early on that Twitter was useless, co-founder Evan Williams pointed out that ice cream is useless too, and they kept working on Twitter.
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