The importance of not being first

Oct. 24, 2002
One of the scams perpetrated by consultants and motivational speakers is the way they beguile CEOs about the importance of some message that should be impressed on their corporate managers. More often than not, the message is fallacious if not outright counterproductive.
View other Ron
Khol editorials

Nevertheless, once a CEO has been hypnotized by the consultant, scores if not hundreds of his managers are doomed to sit through the presentation.

Under a previous regime in our company (which is why the story can now be told), managers had to listen to a presentation on why it is important to rush innovations to market. The reasoning behind this assertion is that the company first with an innovation supposedly ends up with the largest market share and remains the market leader, while those who come in later are doomed to be also-rans.

Fortunately, the cut-off point for mandatory attendance at the presentation was one level above me, but my boss had to attend. Afterwards, he privately complained about having to waste time sitting through the lecture. Hearing that the topic was "The Importance of Being First," I got to thinking about significant industrial innovations during the last century and concluded that companies first in the market don't seem to endure over the long term. In fact, it might be an advantage not to be first. Let's look at some companies that were first with innovations but which either no longer exist or have a minimal presence in the field today.

First company to market ac electricity: Westinghouse Electric Corp. First telecommunications company: Western Union. First company to manufacture automobiles in the United States: Duryea Motor Wagon Co. First airplane: Wright Aeronautical Corp. First digital computer: Sperry Rand. First personal computer: Altair (or perhaps Kenbal, Micral, or Scelbi). First video recorder: Ampex. First color television: CBS Laboratories. First mass merchandiser of television: Muntz. Among the first television networks: Dumont. First aircraft jet engine sold commercially after World War II: Power Jets Ltd. First to market solid-state electronics: Shockley Transistor Corp. First jet aircraft produced in the U.S.: Bell Aircraft Corp. The first commercial jet transport: de Havilland Comet. First turboprop airliner sold to a U.S. airline: Vickers Viscount. First jet airliner sold to a U.S. airline: Sud-Aviation Caravelle.

Originator of numerical-control machining: Parsons Corp. First satellite telephone service: Iridium World Communications Ltd. First computer with a mouse and windows interface: Xerox Alto. First video-display word processor: Lexitron Corp. First developer of an engineering computer-graphics system: Itek Corp. First companies successfully marketing CAD systems: Computervision and Applicon. First online service targeted at consumers: Prodigy Services Co. First European company to export cars aggressively to North America: Austin Motor Co. First spreadsheet developed for PCs: VisiCalc. First fast-food chain in America: White Castle. First compact car made by a major American automobile company: Nash Rambler. Producer of the first supercomputer: Control Data Corp. First computer with strong video and sound capabilities: Commodore Amiga. First low-calorie beer: Gablinger's.

-- Ronald Khol, Editor
Send feedback to MDeditor @

Sponsored Recommendations

How BASF turns data into savings

May 7, 2024
BASF continuously monitors the health of 63 substation assets — with Schneider’s Service Bureau and EcoStruxure™ Asset Advisor. ►Learn More: https://www.schn...

Agile design thinking: A key to operation-level digital transformation acceleration

May 7, 2024
Digital transformation, aided by agile design thinking, can reduce obstacles to change. Learn about 3 steps that can guide success.

Can new digital medium voltage circuit breakers help facilities reduce their carbon footprint?

May 7, 2024
Find out how facility managers can easily monitor energy usage to create a sustainable, decarbonized environment using digital MV circuit breakers.

The Digital Thread: End-to-End Data-Driven Manufacturing

May 1, 2024
Creating a Digital Thread by harnessing end-to-end manufacturing data is providing unprecedented opportunities to create efficiencies in the world of manufacturing.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Machine Design, create an account today!