Mnestic Monday: October 22, 2012

by | Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Diving in to RE:INVENTION’s Mnestic Monday. Every Monday we honor business history and heritage, paying homage to yesterday’s inventions, inventors, innovators, and their media stories. The world often forgets, so RE:INVENTION remembers. This week’s subthemes: copycats, Xerox, and innovation commercialization.

mnestic (adj.) pertaining to memory, from Gk. mnestis “remembrance,” related to mnesis “memory.” Alas, mnestic isn’t a valid Scrabble Word. Darn.

This Day in History:

Today we honor the birth of xerography (photocopying) and its inventor, patent attorney Chester Carlson. As a prominent patent attorney, Carlson spent an overwhelming amount of time making copies of drawings and specifications of inventions by hand or typewriter. During his limited spare hours, he researched easier ways to copy photos and prints from his apartment kitchen. On October 22, 1938, Chester Carlson finally succeeded in a copying experiment using the xerographic method.


After achieving proof of concept, Carlson struggled to find a company that was interested in leading xerography’s commercial development. In 1944, research company Battelle invested $10,000 in the idea in exchange for 60% of future royalties, then signed a contract with the Haloid Photographic Company (now Xerox) to produce and sell the photocopiers. Xerography was officially announced to the public in 1948, ten years after its invention. The first compact office photocopier wasn’t released until 1959. Lest we forget: commercialization of many great ideas didn’t happen overnight.

Media Flashback Based on Current News:

According to today’s press release from Xerox’s Innovation Group, the company’s expertise in imaging is now being applied to analysis of real-time data — including video of traffic and parking patterns — to help improve traffic safety and increase driver satisfaction. Xerox researchers have developed an image-based prototype that accurately identifies how many occupants are in a vehicle using automated image processing techniques. The company is also using their expertise in optical character recognition to enhance automatic license plate recognition and video-based tollbooth collection techniques.

Xerox, considered by many today to be an innovation leader, recognizes that their collective knowledge has powerful application in other industries. Using analytics, big data, and ethnography, Xerox aims to help the government solve big problems. “New ideas with a purpose drive us,” Xerox declares on their website.

Borrowing ideas from other industries can help both startups and corporations generate breakthrough innovation. “The best software and technology innovations have cross-industry application,” adds Jason Lorimer, serial entrepreneur and founder of Dandelion Detroit, a Detroit-based venture philanthropy consultancy and civic innovation lab.

Which brings us to today’s flashback article from the New York Times (July 10, 1989) titled, “Xerox is Trying a Comeback.” The article outlines Xerox’s herculean efforts to improve its internal and external innovation processes despite its failure to properly commercialize innovation during the 1970s.

We’re speaking, of course, of the legendary woes of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). PARC infamously fumbled the future in the 1970s, failing to capitalize on the prototype of the world’s first personal computer, graphical user interface and mouse. PARC also failed to commercialize local area networks, page description languages, and laser printers. Check out this 1970s Xerox TV ad. Eerie shades of Apple’s SIRI! Alas, the early years of PARC were full of great ideas that were never profitably exploited by Xerox.

If Xerox had known what it had and had taken advantage of its real opportunities it could have been as big as I.B.M. plus Microsoft plus Xerox combined—and the largest high-technology company in the world.” — Steve Jobs

It’s good to see Xerox take the lead (again) on cross-industry collaboration and innovation. The company was built on a world changing innovation (xerography) and appears to be committed to leading the edge of infomation technology progress.

Your Mnestic Monday “Lessons Of History” Quote:

It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.
Jean-Luc Godard, French-Swiss film director and film critic

That’s a wrap for this week’s Mnestic Monday, folks. “Thanks for the memory!” For the record, there have been at least NINE cover version copies of the same titled song; Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Stacey Kent, Harry Nilsson, Susannah McCorkle, Frank Sinatra, and Rosemary Clooney all recorded versions of the song for their own albums. Each unique, each equally good.

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