Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It Has To Solve A Problem

Author Malcolm Gladwell had the following interesting observation in the March/April 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs (From Innovation to Revolution - Do Social Media Make Protests Possible?):
I was reminded of a trip I took just over ten years ago, during the dot-com bubble.  I went to the catalog clothier Lands' End in Wisconsin, determined to write about how the rise of the Internet and e-commerce was transforming retail.  What I learned was that it was not.  Having a Web site, I was told, was definitely an improvement over being dependent entirely on a paper catalog and a phone bank.  But taking someone's order over the phone is not that much harder than taking it over the Internet.  The innovations that companies such as Lands' End really cared about were bar codes and overnight delivery, which utterly revolutionized the back ends of their businesses and which had happened a good ten to 15 years previously.
The lesson here is that just because innovations in communications technology happen does not mean that they matter, or, to put it another way, in order for an innovation to make a real difference, it has to solve a problem that was actually a problem in the first place.

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