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Lesson from Thomas Alva Edison

Monday, 6 August 2007


Name of Englishman Joseph Swan would not so familiar in most of people in the world. But not with Thomas Alva Edison. Most of people in this planet would agree that bulb is invented by him. Only few people know that actually, Joseph Swan had invented bulb a few month before Thomas Alva Edison introducing his invention. How could it happened ? What makes most of people in this earth thinks that Thomas Alva Edison is the inventor of bulb ?

The different would lies in their strategy, the approach to be used to introduce that invention. Thomas Alva Edison realized that a bulb is a breakthrough, a radical invention! A new things that only work if it is sustained with another complex system, starting from electricity generator to it’s installations. A very complex system that needed. To make this invention would be accepted by communities, he knew that this bulb lamp has to change or to beat gas lamp installation which already settled, where most of people at that time had already convenience with that system. So, he though that it would be impossible to change that system in a short time. How Thomas Alva Edison overcome this matter ?

Thomas Alva Edison firstly introduce his invention and convince a billionare, JP Morgan to try his invention in his house. When JP Morgan find that this invention is a breakthrough, he gave Thomas a fund to develop electricity system which sustain his invention while at the same time, more people were getting interested to try his invention to be installed at their house.

What we learn from this? Even a great invention or innovation need a time to break a settled system, and it is not easy to apply or introduce that innovation. Entrepreneur can learn from that story. Entrepreneur will faced such situation like that where we have to launch our product or services. Then what we can do ? don’t give up, cause there are some strategies that we can choose to minimize the risk of failure.

First strategy is building our own hub just like what Thomas did. But this strategy is not so easy to be implemented because it took big cost. As long as the existence hub or the existence system has a little weakness and the new hub or system doesn’t offer bigger advantage, then it would be difficult to be success to implemented. For example is the failure of Fair Market Network which want to compete eBay eventhough Fair Market Network cooperate with MSN, Excite, and more than 100 auction onlite sites.

Second strategy is infecting the existence system (settled system). This strategy applied where new innovation would not change the user’s habit. This strategy would be best for “viral” innovation, that is innovation which would spread widely in short term. The best example is Hotmail. Realizing the power of Yahoo mail, Hotmail try to compete Yahoo by giving free email account since 1996 and only in 8 month, there are 12 millions Hotmail’s users with marketing cost of $50,000. very smart strategy of Hotmail by using the popularity of internet at that time. Each person receiving email from Hotmail user, would be offered with free email account at Hotmail with a simple and fast procedure!

Third strategy is complementary positioning. By placing our innovation as complementary product, it would reduce the risk. Customers mostly love a complementary product because it would sustain the existence system where they’ve already convenience with those system. For example, PDA from Palm was success because they positioning it as a complementary of Personal Computer. It is different with PDA from Apple which failed because they tried to compete directly with Personal Computer.

Nothing is the best. It’s all depend on the kind of innovation and the market place where you are going to enter. Depend on you as innovator and as entrepreneur in how you see your prospective consumers or your market!

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