It’s not the gizmo that makes a gizmo successful


Why is the lightbulb the symbol for having an idea?

The obvious reason is that it symbolizes a light turning on in your brain at that “aha” moment.

I think the lightbulb is a great symbol for another reason. For how it was invented — and then the way it became what we know it is today.

First off, the inventor of the lightbulb is not who you think. At least 22 inventors before Thomas Edison “invented” a form of incandescent lamp. However, it was Edison who invented the entire channel necessary for the lightbulb to light up the world: from generating and distributing electricity, to creating uses for lighting, to, yes, the lightbulb or “lamp” part of the distribution channel that was like the version of it that Edison invented: long-lasting and capable of being manufactured in a way that made it economical to mass market.

The same is true today.

As I wrote recently, more than a decade of eBook readers came and went before the Kindle. The Kindle was, and still is, a fairly clunky bit of hardware. But like Edison & Co. with the lightbulb, Bezos & Co. invented an entirely new distribution and payment channel and system for the eBook. The same is true for Jobs &. Co. with the iPod/iTunes Store and the iPhone/iTunes/Apps system.

“The channel” is what matters. The gizmo is secondary.

These days, a company rarely gets to “own” a channel anymore. (And as consumer/users, we shouldn’t want them to). Apple and Amazon have pulled it off. Twitter has also. Facebook has, to a degree.

During 2010, you’ll see lots of companies who don’t have ownership of a channel try to exert power as if they did. They will put up pay walls around content and wonder why no one pays.

They will fail because they believe their content is a lightbulb that we, like moths, will be attracted to.

And they are correct, their content is a lightbulb. But they don’t own the channel anymore.

So they’re in the same boat as those 22 guys whose names no one can recall who invented the lightbulb before Edison.