Innovations That Last

Here’s another video:

Innovations that Last from Tim Kastelle on Vimeo.

Here’s the brief summary:

Today I wore to work a shirt that I bought in 1994. I’ve worn it a whole lot in the time since I bought it. It was made by Timberland, and it’s a well-made shirt that is still in pretty good shape. Since I bought it, Timberland has become more interested in making shirts that give the appearance of ruggedness rather than providing actual ruggedness. So there are no 16 year shirts for sale from Timberland now.

The shirt contrasts with two pretty cool gadgets I’ve got on my key ring – one is a little pocket knife that folds up and looks like a key, the other is a usb stick that looks like a key. Both are pretty flashy, and it is very convenient to have with me all the time with my keys. However, both have fatal flaws – every time I use the bottle opener on the knife, I cut my fingers, and the usb stick comes with a cap that covers the contacts, which just will not stay on the stick. Now the cap is lost, and if I don’t do something, the contacts will get scraped, and the stick will become unusable.

The shirts and boots that Timberland is making now, and the knife and the usb stick are all examples of poor strategy for the 21st century. They look flashy and they seem innovative, but they’re not built to meet real needs, and they’re not built to last.

I think that we have to focus our innovation efforts on ideas that are more durable. We have to come up with products and services that are sustainable. We have to make shirts that will last 20 years – I know we have the technology for it! We have to make usb sticks that are convenient, but which don’t come with built-in features that will trash them in a short period of time.

In other words, we have to make sure that our innovations take time into account. Whether we know it or not, all innovations have a life span – the way to make them live a long time is to make sure they meet real needs sustainably.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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13 thoughts on “Innovations That Last

  1. Yeah, I like this–genuine innovation isn’t just a fancy, distracting flash in the pan, it should provide a robust, enduring solution to a significant configuration of problems without doing harm or impeding the realization of other values/issues.
    And I feel better now ‘fessing up to owning my own shirts that have lasted that long, and being just as frustrated with pocket implements that barely last even one year.

  2. We should proudly wear our old shirts!

    In addition to the dodgy pocket implements, I’ve also had big problems with getting shoes that last ever since Timberland’s quality went out the window. It just seems like it ought to be possible to make some that last more than a year…

  3. Tim this is a great insight and one that’s parallel to creating organizations that last. I think it all comes down to our love of short term thinking and then add the fact that business cycles have gotten faster and we’re off to the ‘added features’ race and so we have this loop where we build for the short term via ‘featuritis’ adding more stuff to something that’s already great all in the pursuit of that incremental bump in share price.

    Ok need to shut up now but yes we need to think to the long term to be and stay relevant.

    Ps I wear old shirts and shoes too.

  4. Hi. Got here from @umairh. A great way to not wear out modern shirts is to not wear them. I wear my 1960s shirts all the time and it’s thrilling to know that when they wear out, I will have some brand new ones waiting in my wardrobe.
    Just checked. The ones in my wardrobe got ate.
    Another dream gone.
    Cheers, Mike.

  5. I watched this days ago and then didn’t have time to comment. D’oh! A common problem these days. Great video blogging, Tim. :)

    My thoughts were that R&D on low-cost (yet ostensibly innovative) products seems pretty harried these days. There’s a certain built-in demand for gadgets with these features, so they are rushed to market without much time/money wasted on testing and improvement, because something new will come along soon enough that will make them obsolete anyway. The key drive won’t have enough memory to bother using two years from now.

    I’d really like one of the bottle opener pocketknives though. Do you know where I could pick one up? 😀

  6. Thanks for coming back to comment Amber!

    You’re right about the usb drive, but I lost the cap in less than two weeks!

    The pocketknives are cool, just don’t open bottles with them. I’m not sure if they’re available in the states or not – I got mine through the local version of REI, and they don’t have it on their website anymore. It is called the Utili-Key and it’s made by Swiss-Tech…

  7. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, it won’t stop working due to the contacts being exposed for those two years though, haha.

    I found the Utili-Key through REI here:
    (hope that link works) and they’re very nearby so I’m going to go looking for one :) This must be part of the spread of ideas. 😀

  8. I’m not holding my breath on that one Amber!

    I got my utili-key from Australia’s poor imitation of REI, so it makes sense that they’d have it there…

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