Whatever happened to Smith Corona? A Hard Lesson in Product Development and Innovation

22 June 2011
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Time and time again we see dominant technologies come and go.  History has seen the automobile replace the horse and buggy as the vehicle of choice, the DVD replace the video cassette, and the PC replace the typewriter.  Although the shift in new technologies is unavoidable, there is a choice in the path of the companies that produce these products.  Some organizations have the foresight and vision to remain leaders in innovation, while others remain stuck in a “tunnel vision” mentality and continue on a path where the inability to change results in their demise.  An excellent example can be seen by the once great typewriter manufacturer Smith Corona, who were pioneers in delivering the first typewriters offering upper and lower case letters as well as market leaders delivering the first portable machine.  Although in their early years it was innovation that made Smith Corona a leader in their industry, with the rise of the personal computer in the mid-80s their ability to respond to market conditions were short-sighted.  After being in business for over 100 years and still generating significant revenues into the late 80s they did not come to terms with the fact that typewriter technology would be eradicated in less than 10 years and eventually they fell off the map as a contender of any kind.

In November 1992, the company’s CEO, G. Lee Thompson, told the Wall Street Transcript, “Many people believe that the typewriter and word-processor business is a buggy-whip industry, which is far from true. There is still a strong market for our products in the United States and the world.” When asked what new products and services the company planned to introduce, he replied, “Nothing right now. They’re still in the formative stages.”

In our day and age where it’s common for technology cycles to be measured in months, there is no place for innovation inertia.  As a result, product development and innovation teams are embracing a more formal approach to manage their portfolio of projects to maintain or exceed their market position. Here are some of the benefits an organization can expect to gain when establishing a new product development strategy (based on best practices):

1.    Increased visibility into their project pipeline improving the ability to succeed in today’s fickle marketplace.
2.    Optimized use of their resources and talent that are responsible for their competitive edge.
3.   Formalized and unified strategy in assessing their pipeline by focusing efforts on their star projects and cutting the fat where necessary.

To learn more about my views on the use of project and portfolio management within new product development and innovation environments, please refer to my recent webcast and white paper on the subject.  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

To learn more about how Genius Project can serve your project management needs, and more specifically, to help you manage your resources, click here.

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