Thursday, December 29, 2016

Innovation, and failure

Last weekend my dad found an old book of mine from 1979: "A solid state of progress" from Fairchild. I am not sure how I got it, and I had not seen it since ~1985. Here is a picture out of it:
The book has about 50 "art" pictures of integrated circuits, and that's it. They are all carefully presented, each one with a little marketing blurb, as this is a marketing publications, and the book has a marvelous "old color ink" smell.

For those that do not know, Fairchild was "the" semiconductor company of the early sixties and from it many were born. Here is a figure that I have copied without permission from someone who redrew without permission a version of a graphic found on page 12 of the in October 2007 issue of The IEEE Spectrum magazine:

Finding this book after something like 30 years made my weekend, but the reason I wanted to mention it, is because this book brings together a few special themes:

  • Innovation: Wow, Fairchild had a crazy influential team of innovators .
  • Branding:  These pictures are like the Marlboro man. Fairchild semiconductor was part of Fairchild Camera and Instrument. The pictures resonate the camera sensor company, but also with the fact that in those days chips were still "something magical".
  • Failure to change: In many ways this is a story of Fairchild's failure! Branding around "static, beautiful and mysterious pictures" is great for the feelings, but not for the business.  The business of innovation is one of change, and that means that your internal process must stick to what stays even when everything else changes.  
  • Failure in business: How many times have we heard smart competent engineers say "that is not the way we do things", or "I do not know how to use that"? The tricky part of innovation is that unless you embrace it, you are pretty much rejecting it! Yet rejecting change is not going to make it go away. Not to mention that adopting too much change will drain you, and cause failure too.
So here is the thing, this beautiful book out of the past of the chip industry is both an emotional statement, as it is a historical archive of how not to manage innovation.