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Small Business Management Article

“It Can’t Be Done” – Or Can It?


Raymond D. Matkowsky

When I was new in my career and possibly going into my mid-career, I would be told several times “You Can’t Do That. It is impossible!” My thoughts have always been, it’s not impossible, we just haven’t figured out how to do it yet. That, ladies and gentlemen is what research is for.

Charles H. Duell was the Commissioner of the United States Patent Office in 1899. The quote that “Everything that can be invented has been invented” is attributed to him. There is some doubt that he ever uttered the phrase, but there is evidence that it dates back to 1899.

We all know that a profound number of inventions have come and gone since then. We have many gadgets today that we never dreamed of 50 years ago. Many big name companies have also been started, thrived and then disappeared or have been replaced after they misread what the public needs or wants. They failed to introduce new products to meet those needs and wants. An example of a company that succeeded would be Xerox®. In the 1940s, who wanted to invest in Xerox® when carbon paper was readily available. You can’t find carbon paper readily now. Xerox® now sells digital solutions worldwide. I don’t think that you could find an office that doesn’t have some type of Xerox® based copy system. Many of these machines are a vast improvement over the original Xerox® machine.

A Business Has To Always Innovate

As a business you have to always innovate if you want to stay in business. This is true for the simplest to the most complex applications. Businesses that get this will see earnings growth. Businesses that do not will be left behind. Kodak® found out the hard way. So did Polaroid®. Kodak thought that people would always prefer their color films. Polaroid® figured there would always be a market for instant pictures. When digital cameras were invented people got both and didn’t need Kodak® films or original Polaroid® Cameras any more. Polaroid® still sells its original cameras, but they mostly sell digital instant cameras now, which is a combination of a digital camera and simple computerized printer. Kodak® was forced to change some of its product lines and now is in the manufacture of printers. Unfortunately because of their failure to read the market and innovate, they are playing catch-up with others in the business.

The Choice Is Yours

When it comes to innovation, one choice that you have is to look 5, 10 or 15 years down the line and determine what will be needed and what you would like to sell to fulfill that need. This may mean starting a new line of business and probably will be a long term (greater than one year) project. This is a risky proposition that may require a large investment and learning curve. But, the payoff could be huge. Xerox® was a risky idea.

A second possibility would be to stay within the business you know and decide what properties your product or service does not have now but you would like to have it in the future. The advantage here is that the learning curve is not as steep. Neither is the investment. This would also probably be a long term project. You, however, must decide if the new properties would extend its lifecycle enough to make it worthwhile.

A Third Choice

You must continue to improve your product or service in the interim if you want to stay ahead of your competition. This, however, presents a third possibility that can be used in conjunction with either of the two above and may fulfill your needs for short term advancements. There is little doubt that whatever path you choose, a successful goal will come in incremental steps. You could use these steps to bring out a stream of new products. Not only will this stream keep you up to date with your customers, the new revenue can be used to defray some of your development costs.

If you have any further suggestions, do not keep it to yourself. Help your fellow readers!

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions drop me a line at

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