Google the term ‘pointless technology’ and you will find some monumental fails.
You will, however, if you’re anything like me, spend at least 15 minutes laughing at some of the bizarre inventions people have come up with over the years.
Some are so ridiculous they surely can’t be true, but at the risk of embarrassing myself by believing too much of what I read on the internet, I will list a couple for your amusement.
My favourite has to be the Car Exhaust Grill, a bulbous addition to a car exhaust pipe which allows you to cook sweet meat treats as you drive. Whether this is a serious invention or a silly advert someone has created for a laugh I’m not sure.
Then there is the Lipstick Assistant. It is a kind of Hannibal Lecter mask but with a lip-shaped mouthpiece cut out of it so you can apply your lipstick perfectly every time. Except you wouldn’t want to use it in public, because it makes you resemble a sinister, vain serial killer, and that’s not a good look. No subtle shade of lip gloss will quite let people forget that you might just eat their liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
These inventions might be ludicrous but they illustrate a point. Technology by itself is not enough. And technology in itself isn’t necessary innovation. The two are not the same.
For true innovation to occur, there needs to be application. OK, you can argue that the two examples above both have applications, but they don’t solve anything that hasn’t been solved before, they do not, therefore, by definition, innovate.
In essence, innovation comes from how technology is used. And in our experience, nine times out of 10, the technology you are seeking already exists. For SpringfieldSolutions, searching for innovations comes down to three big questions: How much time have we got? How much do we believe in it? How much are we willing to sacrifice to make it work?
Our InnovationTeam has a saying - ‘Fail Fast’ - as this enables us to move quickly onto the next project if something isn’t working or allows us to refine the innovation to create a better product. It is this ethos that has driven the evolution of our company over the past four decades. Last year SpringfieldSolutions celebrated 40 years of innovation and looking back over that time, it became apparent that some of our greatest achievements came from taking existing technology and repurposing it.
In 1990, for example, while working for Asda, we combined some newly available Purup technology with Du Pont-Howson’s laser sensitive metal litho plate and exposed the printing plates for their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pizza labels directly on the imagesetter, missing out the film production stage.
The innovation speeded up the printing processes hugely, enabling Asda to get their Ninja Turtle pizzas on the shelves before the other major supermarkets and stealing their sales. It was an industry first that Production Journal described as ‘a glimpse into the future’.
In 1997, along with various partners, we became the first company in the UK to send a data file digitally. Could you imagine a world where data couldn’t be sent digitally now? No, us neither.
More recently, we developed SmartPicture, a powerful print-to-mobile solution utilising Digimarc technology. Again, the technology existed, the innovation came with its application in a contemporary setting. And we are continuing along that vein. We are currently developing an app which reminds people who suffer from anaphylaxis to take their Epi-Pen with them everywhere they go. It is a simple solution based on GPRS technology – something that has been around for years – but it is also an innovation with the power to save lives.
Technology is a wonderful thing, as the old saying goes, and I couldn’t agree more. But in itself it is not enough. The people who create technology are interesting but perhaps not so much as the people who see its potential in a wider context. It is those people and their ideas and insight, who end up changing the world.
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