I just got schooled on innovation and patents by a 12-year-old. My 12 year old, to be precise.
“I just invented a new way of putting wheels on,” he said. They’re playing lego – he and my other son, who’s 8.
He showed me how he did it – a neat way of taking the wheels off the built-in axels they come from the factory on, slipping them into small pieces with a hole in them, and embedding the small piece within the body of the vehicle. Neat indeed.
“It’s much stronger,” he said. “Don’t tell Aidan.”
Don’t tell Aidan. There you have the essence of the patent system. Not exactly, because patents actually reveal something about methodology … but basically. I figure out how to do something good, and you can’t copy it.
This is what threatened Linux a decade ago; it’s what threatens Android now; it’s what has caused a thousand lawsuits and a million settlements.
Mine. Not yours.
It’s very human of us. Doesn’t mean it’s good.
But I think I know how this story is going to end. Sooner or later, Ethan will show Aidan how he put together the wheels in a whole new way. Then Aidan will know how too.
Somehow, that’s how I think our current patent situation in the the US and Europe might end up too.
I have been reinvigorated lately by following Hugh McLeod, the Limey-turned-Texan artist, idea vendor, marketer, and self-described CDF (CrazyDerangedFool).
In this economy and in the overwhelming crush of ideas and messaging, you have to be a little crazy, you have to be a little off-the-wall … you have to STAND OUT from the deafening crowd in order earn the attention necessary to tell your story.
That’s why this recent cartoon of his really speaks to me. George’s first plan better be to re-name himself, jump out of line, change clothes, and break out of the ordinary. But – here’s the key – George’s new George needs to not be another mask marketers wear, but a return to what makes George unique. This level of authenticity, coupled with a real eccentricity, gives George a chance.
Perhaps the crazy ideas are better just because they’re crazy. Perhaps the ordinary plans and ordinary ideas will die just because they’re ordinary. As Seth Godin said a week or so ago, the problem is that you are boring. I am boring – we’re all boring … when we’re simply repeating the party line, doing the standard thing, following the company protocol, going through the motions.
What’s going to make people sit up? Pay attention? Work with us? Hire us?
Here’s a big clue: it won’t be boring. It won’t be standard. It won’t be average. It won’t be a commodity, and it won’t be something you can buy at Wal-Mart.
Gears makes some sense because it has the potential to totally redefine what a web app can do, but it’s a little more forward-looking than most other products in the list.
Kindle is a bit of a shock … a book reader is hardly innovative. The one thing that is innovative is the connection to a marketplace. The device itself could have been much better engineered and far nicer … if possible, Amazon should get Apple to build it for them. (Or hire Jonathan Ive and a couple of Apple’s UI engineers.)
Mint at #20 is pretty cool too … just wish it was localized to Canada.