“A helicopter was flying around above Seattle yesterday when an electrical malfunction disabled all of the aircraft’s electronic navigation and communication equipment. Due to the clouds and haze the pilot could not determine his position or course to steer to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign and held it in the helicopter’s window. The sign said “WHERE AM I ?” in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign and held it in a building window. Their sign said, “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER.” The pilot smiled, waved, looked at his map and determine the course to steer to SEATAC (Seattle/Tacoma) airport and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER” sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded, “I knew that had to be the MICROSOFT building because they gave me a technically correct but completely useless answer.”
The challenge in life is not that ‘stuff happens” like this but how we adapt, respond and “innovate” to use a term Bill Gates loves. Bill succeeded by innovating early in his career to build a great product just when we needed it, but then he stopped and commoditized it seeking to perpetuate his gain in a quest for global market share. He made a lot of money and gave us ubiquitous tools we use every day in the process, but we’ll never know what more could have been done if that same innovation that gave us Windows had continued.
Bill Gates arch competitor Steve Jobs turned innovation into competitive advantage by building style and passion into the products he imagined. He had many setbacks and false starts common to innovators. It took a generation for innovation to win the race against ubiquity, but few doubt its enduring power will be equal.
The lesson we keep re-learning as we confront disruptive technologies and ideas is that the real magic only reveals itself when “stuff happens” and we must be prepared to seize it, use it and go for the goal post when those opportunities present themselves because “stuff happens” and we might never have that opportunity again.
- Steve Jobs and Bill Gates: It’s complicated (news.cnet.com)
- Microsoft and Apple’s relationship – a brief round-up (seattletimes.nwsource.com)