The Fruits of Civilization (40) Innovation


Innovation may provide a critical competitive advantage in many industries. Being first to market with an innovative product may provide a lead position which becomes hard to overcome. Knowing this, companies in a competitive market may rush to put a new technology out, and so be able to crow about its products’ superiority. Such a rush often has negative consequences for consumers and the company.

Business leaders tend to panic when new innovations are about to hit the market. They scramble. ~ American business management maven Marc-David Seidel

In the 1970s, airplane makers McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed were locked in a bitter rivalry. The two produced nearly identical aircraft: the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and the Lockheed L-1011.

Component delays slowed the entry of the L-1011 into the market by a year. Its sales fared poorly against the rival DC-10, and so the L-1011 was considered a failed innovation.

Meantime, the design flaws in the DC-10 were proving lethal. The American civilian air safety regulator – the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – is a captive creature of the airline industry. Only after a number of crashes, in which over 600 people died, did the FAA temporarily ground the DC-10 in 1979. McDonnell Douglas, having got its head start, forged on with its DC-10. Lockheed was unable to commercially catch up.

A similar rush to airborne murder occurred in the 21st century. In its ongoing competition with Airbus, Boeing hustled out a new 737 Max airplane without sufficient software testing. Boeing’s new 737 software control system had a decided tendency to take control of the aircraft and fly it into the ground, regardless of what a pilot did. In 2018 and 2019, 2 new 737s demonstrated the defect with deadly impacts that killed 346. A safety package that could have prevented the crashes was sold as an expensive extra.

After the 1st crash, Boeing did nothing to prevent further mishaps, fearing that taking public steps to safety – even doling out information – would hurt their financial bottom line.

They kept saying they were still analyzing, evaluating. ~ Indonesian civil aviation head Avirianto on Boeing’s response after the 1st crash, of an Indonesian-flown Boeing 737 Max

Only after the 2nd crash was Boeing called to account via massive cancellations of pending orders for the aircraft. Unsurprisingly, the FAA pussyfooted rather than take steps to protect the public from an obviously defective product.

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There are innumerable examples of early innovations being succeeded by superior technology which never caught on. The querty keyboard had an inefficient key layout compared to the later dvorak keyboard, but the dvorak design died out. The VHS versus Betamax video player contest followed a similar pattern.