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Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.
--Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly
Do we want, or even need, more innovation in the U.S. PCB industry? Many times when I try to bring up the topic of innovation I hear, “Do not talk to me about new ideas, models, new technology, or a creatively inspired work force; I need more sales. This is my reality.”
There is a Latin saying, “castigat ridendo mores,” which means, “one corrects customs by laughing at them.” Should we laugh at those who practice the custom of not innovating while at the same time demanding higher sales?
I know of four board shops in the U.S. or Canada that don’t have a sales problem. Yes, they do worry about their sales, of course, but they worry about it within the context of how to change and innovate to sustain and grow their sales. When I bring this up to other shops, the discussion is quickly shot down. The common response, “They have a niche business. We aren’t interested in niche.”
When used in this way, niche suggests an element of blind luck and irrelevance to the sales problem at hand. For example, Apple’s Macintosh computer, still to this day, isn’t considered a business computer. It’s a computer that serves a specialized creative niche. In fact, this attitude is so pervasive that friends ask me when I am going to get rid of my Mac and buy a real computer! When Apple was brought back from the brink, their marketing campaign featured a large picture of Albert Einstein, with the caption, “Think Different.” When I think of Albert Einstein I find myself remembering his definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Innovation--doing things differently and getting different results--was the tool Steve Jobs used to turn Apple around. Too many of Apple’s competitors refused to change and still refuse to change today. The number one fear in the investment community concerning Apple is whether they lost their ability to innovate since losing Steve Jobs. Without Steve, there has yet to be a new ground-breaking innovative product released by them that has opened up a new (and for some, niche) market.
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Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of The PCB Magazine.