Innovation and Failure – A Decade of Tech. Evidence

Here at the end of 2019, folks are naturally reflecting on the last decade, reviewing the good and the bad.  In this spirit of “end of the decade reflection”, Gizmodo, a blog I frequent, just released two articles.  They are titled, “The Worst and Most Disappointing Gadgets of the Decade” and “The Most Innovative Gadgets of the Decade”.  As a lover of technology and gadgets, I read these articles with great interest, a little short-term nostalgia, and plenty of my own opinions.

I’ll let you read their rationale in the original articles, but here are the “Worst and Most Disappointing” gadgets:

3D and curved televisions (2010)
AMD Bulldozer (2011)
Sony Tablet P (2011)
Cannon EOS M (2012)
Nintendo Wii U (2012)
Google Nexus Q (2012)
Lytro (2012)
Microsoft Surface RT (2012)
Google Glass (2013)
Modular phones (2013)
Apple Mac Pro (2013)
Amazon Fire Phone (2014)
Microsoft Band (2014)
Apple Macbook (2015)
Nokia Lumina (2015)
Samsung Gear VR (2015)
Blackberry Priv (2015)
Samsung Note 7 (2016)
LG Watch Sport (2017)
Apple Homepod (2018)

Here are the “Most Innovative” gadgets:

Apple iPhone 4 (2010)
Nest Thermostat (2011)
Samsung Galaxy Note (2011)
Nike FuelBand (2012)
Phillips Hue (2012)
Google Nexus 4 (2012)
Raspberry Pi (2012)
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2012)
UE Boom (2013)
Sony A7 (2013)
Nokia Lumina 1020 (2013)
Pebble (2013)
Amazon Echo (2014)
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (2014)
DJI Phantom 3 (2015)
Dell XPS 13 (2015)
Airpods (2016)
Fitbit Charge 2 (2016)
Oculus Rift (2016)
Apple iPhone X (2017)
Nintendo Switch (2017)
Samsung Galaxy S8 (2017)
Google Pixel 3 (2018)
Apple Watch Series 4 (2018)

You may or may not notice, but several companies had items on both lists.  In some cases, companies had multiple items on both.  Apple was the most frequently seen on both lists, with four items on the Innovative list, and three on the Disappointing list.  Other companies that had products on both lists included Nintendo, Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Sony, Nokia, and Amazon.  All of these companies had either even numbers on both lists or a positive ratio, except Microsoft (2 bad, 1 good).  Now, these articles are far from scientific but I do think this “data” does echo the assertion that in order for innovation to happen, there is a certain level of risk involved.  If we don’t risk, we may fail less.  However, we will also limit the amount of innovation that happens.

Looking at the “Innovative” list, there is also strong evidence that innovation might not happen without iteration.  How many of these products are not the first version of the product line?  The iPhone 4 (and X), Apple Watch 4, Google Nexus 4, DJI Phantom 3, Fitbit Charge 2 and others, for a total of 15 of the 24 products on the list.  Innovation doesn’t need to appear out of the blue, on our first try.  It often comes after many tries, failures or iterations.

Looking at these lists, reading about these successes and failures, one could glean all sorts of information about business, technology trends (would you just look at the number of portable and wearable devices on these lists?) and the like.  However, in the context of failure, I think the message is pretty clear:  If you want to innovate, you have to be willing to risk failure.  If you want to innovate big, then the failure risk requirement is equally big.