Product people absolutely love hearing stories about breakthrough innovations. Thousands of them are trying to predict the "Next Big Thing". Everyone is trying to figure out the secret ingredients of innovation. We tend to assume that breakthroughs are are surprising and that you cannot see them coming. Therefore it takes a special genius to spot one coming, but is that really true?
Old Inventions Are Today's Innovations
Bill Buxton, the pioneer in design and computer graphics who is now a principal researcher at Microsoft, says that most ground breaking inventions are easy to see coming because they are already out there:
Anything that's going to have an impact over the next decade'that's going to be a billion-dollar industry'has always already been around for 10 years. Big ideas poke their noses into the world very slowly, easing gradually into view.
Any innovation which happens today is built on the shoulders of inventions which took 10, 20, sometimes 30 years to "break through". These inventions are all around us, just look around and you can start innovating. Lets look at some examples.
Some Overnight Breakthroughs That Took Decades
Nintendo Wii is a great example. The idea of controlling software by body movement seems absolutely wild and ground-breaking. As Buxton points out engineers have been perfecting motion sensing for alarm systems and automatic doors for years. Nintendo Wii decided to use this very invention for a different domain: gaming.
The pinch-and-zoom gesture which Apple introduced on the iPhone seemed liked an amazing innovation. As Buxton pointed out this feature was discovered back in 1983 by computer designer Myron Krueger as he was experimenting with the pinch and zoom on his Video Place system. Jobs simply used this already invented feature much later when working on the iPhone.
Netflix is yet another example of an innovation built on previous inventions. The DVD technology and movie rental service was already invented. They simply disrupted the market by making it easier to use the service. Their innovation was: renting DVDs through mail.
Wikipedia is yet another example of creating a product from existing inventions. The concept of online encyclopedias was already invented. The concept of wikis was also out there at the time. Jimmy Wales simply put the two together and created 6th most popular site in the world according to recent Alexa ranking.
What "Next Big Thing" is just around the corner that already exists, but has not been developed in to a marketable product yet? What inventions in one field could be brought in to another to change the world?