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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Giants of Innovation


I have been ruminating upon this for several weeks, and so I apologize for being late out of the gate. 

By now everyone is aware that Steve Jobs passed away on October 5, 2011 as did October 11, six days later.  I have, like most, known of both men for years, but never had the opportunity to meet either.  I am saddened by the loss of what these two giants represent, the faces of American innovation.

Robert Galvin was the President and CEO of Motorola, the company that created “wireless world” first with the walkie talkie* and then the cellular phone, and then the cellular phone network.  Steve Jobs had the vision to see the power of these incredible tools and developed his communication powerhouse accordingly.  Jobs’ early computer, the Apple II, was built around the Motorola 6502 microprocessor, and the MacIntosh was built around the Motorola 6800.  Had Motorola not created the foundations, there would be no iPhone, or iPad, or iPod. 

I imagine that these two men knew each other, probably very well.  This adds a certain poignancy to the two deaths.  Indeed one can forgive me for “seeing” their companion deaths as being somewhat akin to the death pairs of close life partners.  That being said, I suspect that it would not have been a particularly “happy union”; the two particularly did not care much for each others company.  They were apparently very different people with Galvin being a warm family man with many hobbies.  Two day the two companies spend a lot of time in the law courts around the world.

So why am I writing about this?  First off, the obvious; Robert Galvin and his link to Quality through Motorola’s development of Six Sigma.  Galvin did not invent Six Sigma, it was the creation of Bill Smith and Mikel Harry, a modern inspiration derived from Shewhart and Demining and Ohno.  But Galvin saw the power of the new language and measure tool based on defects per million.  Galvin had the vision to promote this revitalization of the quality movement.  The characterization of a sigma metric of 5.5 versus 4.1 has provided quality oriented minds a whole new appreciation of the power of simple expression of complex values.

But equally important is the lesson the innovation has many approaches and many faces, and all of them move us forward.  One does not have to invent a new industry, one only needs to see it and improve upon it.  And even if you see the iPhone as perfection, I think what is more important is how it has inspired the next wave of even greater perfections. 

I suspect that neither Galvin nor Jobs thought much about the medical laboratory (well probably Jobs did), but these two innovators are directly responsible for most of our evolution over the last 35 years.  (I set up my first crude laboratory information system on the Apple II).   Near every aspect of what we do, in near every laboratory in the world, benefits from these giants of innovation.   All I can say is “thank you”.

*      A sort of personal interest note: Robert Galvin hired Daniel Noble as the engineer to develop the walkie talkie.  I am unaware of any connections between my family and his.

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