Understanding Innovation……From the History Channel

This weekend I caught an episode of “The Men Who Built America” on the History Channel. The particular episode was about Andrew Carnegie, who began the “Age of Steel”, who started the Carnegie Steel Company; ultimately minimizing production time for building-grade steel from two weeks to 15 minutes.

Certainly a better process as well as a better understanding of the chemical properties of steel helped them mass produce it, and inevitably build out of America at rates never seen before. But it wasn’t smooth sailing to convince people that steel was the next material to build better, stronger, and bigger buildings, leading to the invention of the skyscraper.

His three main hurdles:

1.) Finding a better process to manufacture high-grade steel

Lesson learned: Research and development are the keys to the next innovative breakthrough. Easy problems to answer don’t make anyone money (besider the pet rock and Flappy Bird). Hard problems to solve have the biggest payoff.

2.) Convincing railroads, construction companies, and consumers that steel was the next precedent in buildings

Lesson learned: Marketing your new idea and trying to sell it sometimes makes you feel like a mad man talking to yourself in the corner of an insane asylum. It takes much longer than you think to persuade consumers, even the early adopters, of this new view/idea. Patience and persistence prevail when you’ve done adequate research and development.

3.) Going in all in when you feel the market is “turning”

Lesson learned: Once you begin getting traction in the market, don’t be afraid to be aggressive with your spend, because it will be “now or never” to make your vision a reality.


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