Sometimes what you expect from an innovative idea or a product isn’t always what you get. In fact sometimes you get the opposite end result from what you thought would happen.

If you were around in the 1970’s when the computer revolution was beginning, you may remember all those who predicted that computers would soon lead to a paperless society. That never happened, much to the relief of the paper industry.

And over the past few decades we’ve seen an increase in paper usage in spite of the Internet! With the rise in communications technologies like state-of-the-art printers and cutting-edge copiers, it’s almost effortless to crank out large quantities of colorful paper documents.

One company thankful that its strategic decisions weren’t based on these predictions is Hewlett-Packard, who became the premiere “computer company” in the 1980’s. H-P now makes a significant percentage of its profits by selling ink and toner for printers. Although I haven’t done the math, that is not surprising when you consider that a gallon of printer ink may effectively sell for thousands of dollars.

Another fascinating example of the value of an ironic idea comes from a friend of mine who works in radar. He taught me that contrary to intuition, less clutter, less noise” isn’t always the most desirable environment when trying to solve a problem. One particular challenge with radar is when signals are too low to be detected. You would think that adding extra noise would only muddle the results. But under the right circumstances my friend can add a resonating noise called “stochastic resonance” to the equation,which can actually help radar systems detect the signal.

In innovation, expect the unexpected, and don’t be too quick rule out any idea. Attempt to broaden your vision and imagine the possibilities. When David Sarnoff was promoting the investment in radio in the 1920’s, there was a feeling among some that the “wireless music box” was useless and not commercially feasible because no one would be interested in paying for messages that were sent to no one in particular.

Even a great inventor like Thomas Edison was told that his phonograph would have no commercial value! Fortunately others envisioned its value for recording music and not just the spoken word.

The future can unfold in surprising ways. For instance, do you think the development of the “eBook reader” and all of its enthusiastic fans will make the written book extinct? That’s the prediction some are making today, but personally I wouldn’t count on it.

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