Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Collaborative innovation – stories

Irving Wladawsky-Berger described colloborative innovation as “innovation coming from people working together in open communities”.  His interest was in open source software development, in particular.  In two talks that I heard today at the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange, in Orlando, Bernie Meyerson (IBM Vice President for Strategic Alliances, and Chief Technologist, Systems and Technology Group) and Tony Scott (Disney Senior Vice-President and CIO) provided reflections on collaborative innovation in two different contexts.

Bernie Meyerson described the development of the Cell microprocessor, with IBM in joint development with Sony and Toshiba.  The large investment required to develop basic technologies underlying the new processor was prohibitively high, but made collaboration made it practical.  The basic technologies were shared, with alternative manufacturers and suppliers brought on board at a later date.  Meyerson said that this story was described in Radical Innovation.

Tony Scott showed a 3.25″ floppy diskette — a reduced-size version of the 5.25″ diskette that Dysan didn’t quite get to production.  He was on the management team for this product that never saw the light of day, after Apple installed the Sony 3.5″ floppy diskette in a hard case.  (There’s some talk about this on Wikipedia).  Dysan didn’t listen to customers who were looking for media in a more durable carrier, and had started investing in producing the 3.25″ floppy diskette drives itself.  Scott made it sound as if this management decision was a leading cause of the failure of the company, a few years later.

Innovation is no longer a go-it-alone proposition.  All of the easy innovations have already been done, and collaborative innovation makes the development of new technologies affordable.

2 Comments

  • The story behind the Dysan 3.25 floppy diskettes is really related to earlier phases of Free Trade. First of all customers back then had more concerns than just the operation of the diskettes itself. The formulation was a very important issue related to wear and tear on the drives which also involved bit error operations issues. Dysan was the best in error free disk storage. There was a deep concern about the hard case 3.5 diskette taking in and hiding debri in the corners of the case. Dysan designed their flexible diskette for this reason and added a metal hub for long term performance. The protective envelope approach that was proven over the years with the 5 1/4″ and 8″ was kept in the new 3.25.

    A standards meeting in Japan was the essential factor in Sony winning the contest for the smaller size diskettes. This turned into a power play that Dysan could not win. First HP gave its approval to the 3.5 Sony version and then IBM followed in approving the new standard. In the end the decision was not based on customer satisfaction but on economic powers on an international basis. This is what a conference on standards produced.

    The extra 1/4 ” meant more than just a new way to go with diskettes but affected the whole range of disk storage devices. Dysan which led the way in disk storage found itself in a game they could no longer play especially after IBM chose a foreign company over them. The world would have been much different if IBM kept the PC in house and were ready with their own operating systems instead of granting Microsoft the DOS operating system. It was the first time IBM did not manufacture their own computer and were forced to make it a compatible .

    You can say that the difference of a 1/4 ” changed the world dramatically. Thomas Friedman in his book The World is Flat uses what he calls “Flatteners” or periods in history that paved the way for Globalization and Free Trade. The story of the 1/4″ should be one on of them and again like most things related to Globalization and Free Trade , it was a forced march and did not evolve in any natural way.

  • We helped jump start the cat scan industry with Dysan 100 percent error free rigid disk storage and wrote on error recovery that saved government accounts time and money. We were independent vendor for five years and direct with Dysan for an additional five years. They created the best in disk storage overall and funded the start of Seagate which employed 100,000 workers with only 10 percent employed in the USA. Global politics controlled the issue and not technology.

    As noted above, the main problem was not customer satisfaction but something of a lock out by major corporations backing Sony. It also should be understood that Sony had an exclusive to the plastic hard case and again the 3.5 versus the 3.25 dimension played a big part in the manufacturing of magnetic media platters. This was not only about product design. It was much more than that


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