Saturday, January 19, 2008

Meta-solutions -- Innovation Without Invention

At an industry conference in 1989 I heard a futurist say "Most of the great products of the future will not be based on breakthrough technology. Rather, they will be "meta-solutions" -- unique and innovative combinations of already-existing technologies, combined in new and different ways".

He went on to explain that the Greek prefix, "meta", describes something that's more comprehensive, transcending, and taken to a higher state of development. A meta-solution, then, would combine existing ideas, forms, technologies, etc. into a new, more feature/function-rich product.

Some examples --

  1. Douglas DC-3 airplane -- It wasn't the fastest airplane available. It wasn't the highest-payload airplane available. It wasn't the longest range aircraft available. It was, simply, the Only fast, high-payload, long range airplane available. As such, it dominated the commercial aircraft industry for years. Thousands were used in WWII, as well. According to, "It is generally regarded as one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made." Over 13,000 were built.
Side note (and worth remembering): After acquisition by McDonnell Aircraft, a military-style company, Douglas lost its way in the commercial market and has all but forfieted its position in the commercial aircraft business.

  • Parking Sonar on Cars, my personal favorite feature on my car. Sonar's not new, it's been around for decades, except on cars. It required cost reduction of transponders plus digital signal processing to become affordable.

  • GPS, my second personal favorite feature on my car, is a combination of a dozen or so technologies -- Satellites, digital mapping (the military has been doing in top-secret for decades), digital communication and signal processing, LCD displays, touch screens, etc. Clever meta-idea, putting all those together, eh? Next? Combined with wireless technology, a GPS dog-tracking collar is available (further cost and size reduction will be required for real market traction). Look for an implantable version in __ years (your prediction is as good as mine -- an invention in power will be necessary along the way).

  • Presentation Pilot Pro Wireless PowerPoint slide clicker by Interlink -- -- Absolutely nothing "new" here -- a classic meta-solution -- stamped aluminum top case, injection-molded bottom case, silicone molded buttons, surface mount printed wiring board, watch battery, laser pointer, etc. This meta-combination of materials and design is simply the best product in its class. Three killer features: It has a "dock" where you insert the USB receiver for storage. This disables all the buttons, so if they get pressed while the remote is in the projector case it doesn't run the battery down. Forward and reverse buttons are buffered -- no matter how long you hold the button, it just advances one slide. A disqualifying defect of at least one competitive product. And it has a "black" button -- invokes the windows command that switches a PowerPoint to "black" -- you can blank the screen, talk for awhile, and then come back.
    It's RF, not IR, so it's not line-of-sight -- you can point it anywhere.
  • You can think of dozens of examples for yourself, more specific to your industry.

    So, what's a meta-solution that your business could offer? A way of combining technologies, products, packaging, business processes or services in a way that no one else has yet considered or been successful with? Sometimes it's a couple of small "tweaks" to someone else's offering. Like #4 above -- a product that's head and shoulders above the dozen or so products intended for the same use.

    This "non-inventive" innovation is faster and cheaper than waiting for a "brass ring" from your R&*D department, and becomes a springboard from which to launch additional innovations, improve margins, and grow your business.

    These kinds of ideas surface at every meeting of Chief Executive Boards International. If you have an interest in ideas that will accelerate your business and provide you more fulfillment, more wealth and more time to enjoy it, contact me at:

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    Terry Weaver

    Chief Executive Boards International
    864 527-5917

    Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

    1 comment:

    1. Another killer product I forgot to mention is the WiFlyer -- a combination Wi-Fi router with both a dialup modem and an ethernet connection. Allows multiple Wi-Fi users to share a single wired connection (some hotels have wired-only internet)or a single dialup connection. More in an upcoming article on "Simple Products I Like a Lot".


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