NPR : Gates: U.S. Losing Advantage in Innovation Race This NPR interview with Bill Gates had Gates talk (amongst other issues) about an interesting dilemma his company has. He believes that the only time Microsoft sell a version of its operating system is when there have been sufficient innovations in the current version to justify them upgrading to the next version. As such, he believes that what Microsoft are really selling, in what is typically seen as a stolid monopoly market, is breakthrough innovations.
That comment got me thinking - especially with innovateEurope 2006 this year focusing on "Breakthrough and Beyond" (btw - 3M's Art Fry is a keynote speaker there in what I believe is his first ever appeaance in Europe, and certainly his first talk on innovation for many years!). In a monopoly market such as Gates', is a breakthrough innovation defined by a point of view? At what point do the cumulative incremental, or minor innovations add up to make a "breakthrough innovation" in his point of view? Then there's also the issue that you rarely purchase this "breakthrough" in isolation. How many times have you upgraded your operating system without upgrading any other component of your technology base? Personally, I find myself holding onto my version of Windows, until the cumulative increases in both Windows technology AND laptop technology have increased to the point at which I justify the cost of a new machine - so can a bundle of innovative products that go hand in hand constitute a single "breakthrough innovation"?