When being too far ahead of the market doesn’t pay

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The first computer mouse held by Engelbart sho...
The first computer mouse held by Engelbart showing the wheels that directly contact the working surface (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you know when the computer mouse was invented?

I couldn’t believe it when I saw that Doug Engelbart invented the first mouse prototype in 1963. The device was christened as the “mouse ” as early models had a cord attached to the rear that resembled the tail of a common mouse.

Engelbart used the mouse in 1968 before an audience of about 1,000 people to demonstrate a world in which computers would help to make people think and work faster, more efficiently and collectively.

He received a patent for his mouse device in 1970.

German company Telefunken developed and published their early ball mouse in 1968. It was called Rollkugel (” Rolling Ball”). They used it on the TRS 86 process computer system.

The mouse designed by Engelbart was used in the 1970s on the Xerox Alto but it remained obscure until it appeared in 1984 with the Macintosh. In 1983 Microsoft was already developing the first PC-compatible mouse and shipped it in the same year.

Since then, billions of mouse devices have been sold. In November 2008, Logitech built their billionth mouse.

The thing that interests me is how long it took for this innovation to spread. The mouse was invented sixty years ago but really only came into widespread use in the 1990s — and that’s already two decades ago.

Innovations diffuse or spread in society very slowly. Cultural innovation is extremely slow. Even practices that are harmful persist after hundreds of years. Innovation in business systems sometimes take so long because the managers put there are one generation behind the new generation.

Adoption of technology is slow unless the cost benefits are so obvious that only a fool wouldn’t believe them. But even email took ages to spread into companies.

For small businesses and start-ups who want to introduce new products and services on the market, care needs to be taken to not be the inventor. You will probably have to wait years or decades like Engelbart to see your invention receive commercial recognition.

This is why start-ups and small businesses usually go for something that’s the same but different. A new surf swimwear range for women, for instance, is touted as revolutionary but it’s really just a minor improvement on an existing product. But consumers want something new and buy the surf bikinis like crazy.

By all means come up with your best ideas without limits but in the factory of your imagination cool expectation with what will work and sell quickly.

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