March 15, 2006 11:34 AM PST

IBM: The 'next big thing' no longer exists

SINGAPORE--An era of inventions ended with the passing of the 20th century, says a prominent thought leader from IBM.

Nicholas Donofrio, Big Blue's executive vice president of innovation and technology, made the declaration on Tuesday in an interview with ZDNet Asia. He was in Singapore for the first gathering of the Infocomm International Advisory Panel, organized by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore.

Nicholas Donofrio
Nicholas Donofrio

"The fact is that innovation was a little different in the 20th century. It's not easy (now) to come up with greater and different things," Donofrio said.

"If you're looking for the next big thing, stop looking. There's no such thing as the next big thing," he added.

That is not to say that the 21st century does not also require invention, creation and discovery, he said. But these days, people are looking for value that arises from a creation and not just looking at technology for its sake, he explained.

When it comes to innovation, there is a need to think collaboratively and in a multifaceted manner, as this determines who wins and who loses, he said.

Donofrio added that innovation today is more about services, process, business models or cultural innovation than just product innovation.

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"People all around the world are telling us the same thing," Donofrio said. "IBM did a survey of 750 (chief information officers), and all of them listed innovation as a top priority. This is what I spend my time on, what I worry about."

Room to think
To foster a culture of innovation in the company, IBM set up ThinkPlace, an online community for its employees, nine months ago. At ThinkPlace, participants are encouraged to put up ideas, which are evaluated and then rewarded or redirected accordingly.

"In the late 1980s, IBM got into trouble and did away with suggestions," Donofrio said, referring to the corporate turmoil that IBM underwent as it headed into the 1990s. The company reported a $4.97 billion loss in 1992 which, at that time, was the largest single-year corporate loss in the history of the United States. After Lou Gerstner was named CEO in 1993, he helped turn IBM around.

According to Donofrio, IBM employees have contributed close to 5,000 ideas to date, and about 100 of those are being evaluated. The ideas cover products, processes and services.

IBM seeks to cultivate the spirit of innovation outside the company too, Donofrio pointed out. There is even a group at the company "looking hard at collaborating with other people" on future technology. A key example is IBM's alliance with Sony and Toshiba on the Cell chip.

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In addition, IBM organized the Global Innovation Outlook. The GIO series of discussions, which took place in 2004 and 2005, brought together IBM workers and thought leaders, and participants from academia and industry around the world.

For GIO 2.0 last year, more than 180 IBM ecosystem partners from around the world participated in 15 daylong sessions held in China, India, Brazil, Switzerland and the United States, discussing the future of the enterprise, transportation and the environment.

And in April of last year, IBM launched the Genographic Project together with the National Geographic Society. The project is a five-year research partnership that aims to map how the Earth was populated using sophisticated laboratory and computer analysis of human DNA, contributed by hundreds of thousands of people.

Just this week, IBM announced that it will give qualified partners access to its renowned research organization.

Jeanne Lim of ZDNet Asia reported from Singapore.

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innovation, IBM Corp., Singapore, leader, U.S.

92 comments

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Add your comment
iPod
no next big thing?? What the heck does he call the iPod which came
out after the turn of the century? Come on, this is coming from a
person that is SUPPOSE to be creating the innovation! Just because
his company failed in the home market and hasn't made a hit
product in years, doesn't mean innovation is dead, just his
company. This would be like Steve Jobs coming out and saying,
well you know what, I guess we can stop making new products
because we are all stupid uncreative idiots and just keep upgrading
our existing ones. What a fool.
Posted by drumpat01 (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
IPod is a cultural innovation and he did mention that
IPod is a cultural innovation. MP3 players were there before IPOD. Web sites selling music where there before IPOD.

IPOD successfully melded hardware, software, user experience and culture experience beautifully. This can be called cultural innovation or service innovation. If jobs had not succeeded convincing music companies to allow him to sell the music online, IPOD would not have succeeded.
Posted by Tanjore (322 comments )
Link Flag
iPod
no next big thing?? What the heck does he call the iPod which came
out after the turn of the century? Come on, this is coming from a
person that is SUPPOSE to be creating the innovation! Just because
his company failed in the home market and hasn't made a hit
product in years, doesn't mean innovation is dead, just his
company. This would be like Steve Jobs coming out and saying,
well you know what, I guess we can stop making new products
because we are all stupid uncreative idiots and just keep upgrading
our existing ones. What a fool.
Posted by drumpat01 (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
IPod is a cultural innovation and he did mention that
IPod is a cultural innovation. MP3 players were there before IPOD. Web sites selling music where there before IPOD.

IPOD successfully melded hardware, software, user experience and culture experience beautifully. This can be called cultural innovation or service innovation. If jobs had not succeeded convincing music companies to allow him to sell the music online, IPOD would not have succeeded.
Posted by Tanjore (322 comments )
Link Flag
Fortunately Innovators Ignore Such Rubbish
and that about sums it up
Posted by sadaemon (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fortunately Innovators Ignore Such Rubbish
and that about sums it up
Posted by sadaemon (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fortunately Innovators Ignore Such Rubbish
and that about sums it up
Posted by sadaemon (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fortunately Innovators Ignore Such Rubbish
and that about sums it up
Posted by sadaemon (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get a Job at the patent office.
I believe it was 1900 and a patent office offical said that there was nothing new worth inventing. I can't believe IBM still pays this guy for being inovative.
Posted by AndrewBoyd (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Physics too!
Someone around that same time also said the same about physics.

Is there something about the beginning of a century that makes people become stupid and think that's all there is?
Posted by bakanale (6 comments )
Link Flag
Good Ol' IBM
Wasn't it IBM's own Tom Watson who, in 1952, predicted that the worldwide market for computers was five?

Big Blue have a history of being unable to see more than three months ahead. The PC was only invented by IBM because the development team was hidden away in Boca Raton, so senior management couldn't gum up the works.

Anyway, even having a role like "Executive Vice President of Innovation and Technology" in the company is a pretty stong indicator that innovation is less important than pecking order and corporate heirarchy. Presumably, there are also "Senior VPs of I&T", "Junior VPs of I&T", "Junior Senior VPs of I&T", "Senior I&T Managers", "Junior I&T Managers," "I&T Executives" and all the rest of the status-conscious "I know my place" baloney that is the real enemy of innovation.

Large companies like IBM should stick to what they do best: either buy other people's good ideas or just use their lawyers to steal them.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Link Flag
Get a Job at the patent office.
I believe it was 1900 and a patent office offical said that there was nothing new worth inventing. I can't believe IBM still pays this guy for being inovative.
Posted by AndrewBoyd (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Physics too!
Someone around that same time also said the same about physics.

Is there something about the beginning of a century that makes people become stupid and think that's all there is?
Posted by bakanale (6 comments )
Link Flag
Good Ol' IBM
Wasn't it IBM's own Tom Watson who, in 1952, predicted that the worldwide market for computers was five?

Big Blue have a history of being unable to see more than three months ahead. The PC was only invented by IBM because the development team was hidden away in Boca Raton, so senior management couldn't gum up the works.

Anyway, even having a role like "Executive Vice President of Innovation and Technology" in the company is a pretty stong indicator that innovation is less important than pecking order and corporate heirarchy. Presumably, there are also "Senior VPs of I&T", "Junior VPs of I&T", "Junior Senior VPs of I&T", "Senior I&T Managers", "Junior I&T Managers," "I&T Executives" and all the rest of the status-conscious "I know my place" baloney that is the real enemy of innovation.

Large companies like IBM should stick to what they do best: either buy other people's good ideas or just use their lawyers to steal them.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Link Flag
Nick Donofrio is an idiot
Seriously now, who would believe all the "good" inventions are taken? I can't imagine why he would say this....and I work for IBM!

Embarrasing and pitiful..Nick, go work for Microsoft or Gateway dude.
Posted by kubasic (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I Can't Believe You Said That
I'm shocked that you would say this about Mr. Donofrio.

I heard rumors in the past that people said things like this in IBM and there were repercussions.

Jeff Marzano
Posted by marzano (2 comments )
Link Flag
Nick Donofrio is an idiot
Seriously now, who would believe all the "good" inventions are taken? I can't imagine why he would say this....and I work for IBM!

Embarrasing and pitiful..Nick, go work for Microsoft or Gateway dude.
Posted by kubasic (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I Can't Believe You Said That
I'm shocked that you would say this about Mr. Donofrio.

I heard rumors in the past that people said things like this in IBM and there were repercussions.

Jeff Marzano
Posted by marzano (2 comments )
Link Flag
Next BIG thing or lots of little things?
I sort of side with Nicholas Donofrio (IBM), at least on the computer side of things. I'm sure there are all sorts of inventions out there that we've never seen. But I think that computer-wise, we're sort of done with what's REVOLUTIONARY.

There will always be improvements to what computers can do, but what is there that we do without computers that we should do WITH computers?

Streaming special TV and radio channels were big. Using the computer as a phone was pretty big. MP3s, and the subesquent MP3 players, were enormous. But I can't think of anything new that a computer will do that it can't do already. Maybe we can use it to watch regular TV. I know people who use their CPU as a Tivo/DVR. And we can do video chat a lot easier and cheaper than video phones. But what's next? I think until someone comes up with a matter-energy transference machine, we're sort of tapped out with anything NEW a computer can do.

Just my three cents,


Erik Deckers
Posted by edeckers (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If companie like IBM & Microsoft would stop stifling technology
We would have a LOT more innovation and big ideas. But if they can't control markets and technolgies, they kill them. Impede them. Marginalize them.
Posted by ordaj (338 comments )
Link Flag
Come On
How about Tertiary computing instead of Binary?

But leave the inventions, and dreams to those who can. The suits,
well, hehe, they are historically, and forever more, just that.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Link Flag
Next BIG thing or lots of little things?
I sort of side with Nicholas Donofrio (IBM), at least on the computer side of things. I'm sure there are all sorts of inventions out there that we've never seen. But I think that computer-wise, we're sort of done with what's REVOLUTIONARY.

There will always be improvements to what computers can do, but what is there that we do without computers that we should do WITH computers?

Streaming special TV and radio channels were big. Using the computer as a phone was pretty big. MP3s, and the subesquent MP3 players, were enormous. But I can't think of anything new that a computer will do that it can't do already. Maybe we can use it to watch regular TV. I know people who use their CPU as a Tivo/DVR. And we can do video chat a lot easier and cheaper than video phones. But what's next? I think until someone comes up with a matter-energy transference machine, we're sort of tapped out with anything NEW a computer can do.

Just my three cents,


Erik Deckers
Posted by edeckers (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If companie like IBM & Microsoft would stop stifling technology
We would have a LOT more innovation and big ideas. But if they can't control markets and technolgies, they kill them. Impede them. Marginalize them.
Posted by ordaj (338 comments )
Link Flag
Come On
How about Tertiary computing instead of Binary?

But leave the inventions, and dreams to those who can. The suits,
well, hehe, they are historically, and forever more, just that.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Link Flag
The Next Big Thing Is Alive And Well
Nicholas Donofrio could not be any more wrong! The NEXT BIG THING is just around the corner and will lavish unbelievable spoils to the one that discovers it.

The spirit of innovation is alive and well - just maybe not at IBM.
Posted by rarmasu (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Net 2.0 , right?
What a joke!
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Link Flag
The Next Big Thing Is Alive And Well
Nicholas Donofrio could not be any more wrong! The NEXT BIG THING is just around the corner and will lavish unbelievable spoils to the one that discovers it.

The spirit of innovation is alive and well - just maybe not at IBM.
Posted by rarmasu (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Net 2.0 , right?
What a joke!
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Link Flag
Only half true.
Of course Nicholas Donofrio is wrong. I believe he speaks for his (and perhaps IBM's) lack of vision.

What is true about what he has said is that collaboration and multifaceted approaches are and will continue to be critical to the success of innovations.

The irony is that the most dramatic innovations (the "big things") will be created by mavericks who are willing to take a risk in not thinking like everyone else. This is in contrast to most incremental improvements which happen best in larger organizations.

I can think of several emerging technologies which will create new "big things" - that is, innovations that have large societal impact.
Posted by pgabel (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Only half true.
Of course Nicholas Donofrio is wrong. I believe he speaks for his (and perhaps IBM's) lack of vision.

What is true about what he has said is that collaboration and multifaceted approaches are and will continue to be critical to the success of innovations.

The irony is that the most dramatic innovations (the "big things") will be created by mavericks who are willing to take a risk in not thinking like everyone else. This is in contrast to most incremental improvements which happen best in larger organizations.

I can think of several emerging technologies which will create new "big things" - that is, innovations that have large societal impact.
Posted by pgabel (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What!!!!
This is coming from a company that lost its edge in the computer
world. People are beings of invention. I don't forsee any change
soon.
Posted by charleyg21 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What!!!!
This is coming from a company that lost its edge in the computer
world. People are beings of invention. I don't forsee any change
soon.
Posted by charleyg21 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
IBM is good at Predicting the future!!
This is the same company that in the 1980s passed up the option to buy MS-DOS from Bill Gates and chose to license it instead because IBM predicted that the total PC sales per year would NEVER be more than a few thousand.

Doug
Posted by dwledet (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Tell the future?
Doug, please indicate an instance when a company foretold the future? IBM's 'prediction' was made at a time when no one had personal computers. Who, based on that reality, could say EVERYONE would want one of them? Conversly, Sony thought EVERYONE would want a Betamax machine. In the end, the Porn industry allowed the cheaper VHS standard to win, and also helped popularize the Personal Computer (and coincidentally MS Windows).
Posted by milesmonroe (7 comments )
Link Flag
IBM is good at Predicting the future!!
This is the same company that in the 1980s passed up the option to buy MS-DOS from Bill Gates and chose to license it instead because IBM predicted that the total PC sales per year would NEVER be more than a few thousand.

Doug
Posted by dwledet (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Tell the future?
Doug, please indicate an instance when a company foretold the future? IBM's 'prediction' was made at a time when no one had personal computers. Who, based on that reality, could say EVERYONE would want one of them? Conversly, Sony thought EVERYONE would want a Betamax machine. In the end, the Porn industry allowed the cheaper VHS standard to win, and also helped popularize the Personal Computer (and coincidentally MS Windows).
Posted by milesmonroe (7 comments )
Link Flag
Nicholas Donofrio, Yes he is an idiot.
This guy needs to grow a cell. He should lose his job.
Posted by Stan Johnson (322 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nicholas Donofrio, Yes he is an idiot.
This guy needs to grow a cell. He should lose his job.
Posted by Stan Johnson (322 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Donofrio is correct just misunderstood...
He is absolutely right from his point of view. The next big thing will not come from large multi-national corporations and therefore in his eyes no longer exists. Corporate culture like IBM's just simply doesn't allow for such outstanding creativity to exist.
And that folks is my .02 cents.
Posted by Laserdisc (79 comments )
Reply Link Flag
you are wrong
just my 2 cents
Posted by Stan Johnson (322 comments )
Link Flag
Donofrio is correct just misunderstood...
He is absolutely right from his point of view. The next big thing will not come from large multi-national corporations and therefore in his eyes no longer exists. Corporate culture like IBM's just simply doesn't allow for such outstanding creativity to exist.
And that folks is my .02 cents.
Posted by Laserdisc (79 comments )
Reply Link Flag
you are wrong
just my 2 cents
Posted by Stan Johnson (322 comments )
Link Flag
Has he informed Wall Street and the VCs?
He could save them all a ton of money.
Posted by ordaj (338 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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