Innovation Is A Margin Thing…

Let’s face it, nothing much comes from the mainstream except task forces, meeting, and other such mundane things. Innovation almost always happens on the margins. Innovation by its very definition is not mainstream. The only way paradigm type change comes is through out-of-the-box thinking.

Far too many of us just go with the flow and don’t make waves. We draw our salary and do as we are told. It’s easy to fall into this modus-operandi. I worked for a very conservative company and was told early on that taking risks was ok as long as you never fail! The very definition of innovation means failing on a regular basis in order to discover that one thing that proves successful. That “Don’t Fail” mentality hit me early on in my 30-year career, and it was difficult to shake it off, but I eventually did just that.

My innovation started in 1984 when Apple introduced the Macintosh computer. But, the seed was planted about seven years earlier when the Radio Shack TRS-80 personal computer was brought to the market. This was the beginning of the personal computer era that still envelops us forty-five years later.

My Aspie mind was made for the personal computer. I bought my first TRS-80 almost as soon as it was released. It cost more than a month’s salary, but I couldn’t wait for the prices to come down. I immediately started designing a home control system for my small apartment. My “Trash 80” as it was so lovingly called became my best friend. I can remember one weekend when I got off work on Friday I sat down and started writing code, and except for bathroom and coffee breaks I didn’t get out of my chair until Sunday afternoon!

Finally, when the Mac computer came around, I talked my boss into getting me one to see if it would make my job easier. It would be less than a year later that I had a dozen engineers on my floor jerry-rigged together in an unofficial network via wires strung in the suspended ceiling. We shared programs (apps today) with each other. The “official” computer department said “we don’t do those personal computers” so they left us alone. That was fine with me. 😎

Our unofficial network grew exponentially and lasted four years before it was taken down and replace with a “company approved” network. Of course, that would be only the beginning of my metamorphosis from electrical engineer to an information technology (IT) guy. Eventually I went on to developing apps for an entire 400 engineer organization. I don’t know how long it would have taken the very stodgy mainstream thinking to eventually accept that the personal computer was the future, but I take great pride in being one of those who lived on the margins and pushed the technology forward.

Innovation happens on the margins.