Roman Unbreakable Glass: the Challenge to Innovation from Within

The story of the Roman inventor of flexible glass 2000 years ago is a salutory lesson for all innovators, especially those within organisations.As Isadore of Seville tells it, the inventor went to the Roman Emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD) with a...

Share

The story of the Roman inventor of flexible glass 2000 years ago is a salutory lesson for all innovators, especially those within organisations.

As Isadore of Seville tells it, the inventor went to the Roman Emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD) with a drinking bowl made of this flexible and ductile glass, and threw in on the ground to demonstrate that it didn't shatter.

Tiberius asked him if anyone else knew about the invention. The inventor said he'd told no-one.

And he was instantly beheaded.

What the unfortunate inventor hadn't seen was the big picture - Tiberius had instantly realised that cheap, easily produced flexible glass that didn't break would wreck the Imperial monopoly on gold and silver!

That, sadly is too often the case in big companies, where someone comes up with a bright idea which in practice means interfering with a profitable short term operation or disintermediating a product line.

In such cases innovators these days don't get killed - they get ignored, sidelined, blocked or gagged under non-disclosures. Many innovative products have been  rejected by large suppliers controlling projects when they threaten monopolistic inefficiencies. There are many cases of other innovations being bought up and mothballed.

That's one reason why good people leave large companies to set up small entrepreneurial start-ups. Although they've escaped the chop the impact of their innovation can still be the same outside so many find themselves subject to slow strangulation - which is what this blog aims to try to prevent.

* Searching for success: I'm always looking for practical case examples showing how innovative companies have successfully broken through generic barriers into large enterprises or government. Please point me to good examples you know! Thanks!

Find your next job with computerworld UK jobs