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Innovation

Identify right timing before declaring eureka

This week, I'm in the city where Tony Bennett left his heart and that was home to the inventor of the Chinese fortune cookie.It is also the city where the Apple iPad remains out of stock.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor on

This week, I'm in the city where Tony Bennett left his heart and that was home to the inventor of the Chinese fortune cookie.

It is also the city where the Apple iPad remains out of stock. It's clear the company has done a pretty decent job introducing technology and products that a significant portion of the market desires.

But innovation is a funny thing. While companies like Apple may have found much success in staying ahead of the competition, the same cannot be said for others like Sun Microsystems.

Virtualized computing is a hot topic at the conference I'm covering here, with delegates heralding an era when consumers will be able to access any data and run any app directly from a central server network, completely via the Web.

So regardless of the type of device we're carrying, where we are and the level of compute power our device can support, we'll have whatever resources needed to support critical work processes.

In other words, the network becomes our personal computer--accessible via the Web, or cloud. This is now touted as the next wave of computing.

That said, Sun had the same idea more than 20 years ago, and that never took off. So why now? The executives I spoke with believe Sun's innovation was way too early, and the market as well as the necessary supporting technology just weren't ready to carry through Sun's vision.

Innovation alone won't guarantee success; having the right innovation at the right time will. For some companies, though, it also helps if they have the necessary resources to wait it out.

Amazon.com, for instance, accumulated a whopping US$2.8 billion deficit in the seven years leading up to its first profitable quarter in 2002.

Founded in 1994, the online retailer emerged at a time when e-commerce was a rising buzzword. However, in the years that followed, security and privacy concerns held consumers back from shopping online and Internet adoption wasn't as pervasive as it is now.

But Amazon stuck it out, streamlined its costs and improved its technology over the years. Fortunately for the company, it took under a decade before online shopping finally caught on. Last year, it reported revenues totaling US$24.5 billion and a net income of US$902 million.

Unfortunately for Sun, it took over two decades before its vision of the network as the computer has now come full circle and over two decades too late for the company, which has since been acquired by Oracle.

It's unfortunate, but it is a reflection of market reality. Commercial success can't ride on innovation alone. It's also about hitting the market at the right time and ensuring your consumers are ready to embrace your innovation.

Kinda reminds me of the time I bought the right set of lottery numbers...for the day before the right draw.

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