5min readBusiness 21 May 2018
I sometimes wonder if there is a graveyard for 'failed' inventions. You know those new technologies that are being talked about everywhere and sure to be 'the next best thing'.
When does something cease to be a 'next big thing' and slide away into oblivion?
I think it's worth looking at how an innovation becomes touted as 'the next big thing' in the first place. It typically begins in places like Silicon Valley with venture capitalists [VCs], who are always on the lookout for new, disruptive technology that will be their next Facebook or Apple – and become a billion-dollar company.
“Investors get involved, invest, then tout the next superfood until it is part of the zeitgeist," explained a venture capitalist recently to Bonnie Halper, technology expert and founder of Startup One Stop.
The truth is that VCs may have only one or two winners out of ten companies in their portfolio, if they are lucky. The most successful VC firms' investments are monitored by Silicon Valley and the press alike, with the assumption that past success is a good indicator of future success and increases the likelihood that the companies they invest in are likely winners.
A technology can be highly praised before it is even developed or hits the market. Then reality hits, or the company moves from concept to finally delivering their much-anticipated product or service, and it turns out not to be the next remarkable thing. Some fails are more epic than others.
Here is a look at 3 Failed Digital Innovations
Google Glass – an optical head-mounted display designed in the shape of a pair of eyeglasses, which was designed with the mission of producing a ubiquitous computer. A smartphone-like, hands-free format displayed information right within the glasses. The wearer could use voice commands to call up information via the connected internet.
“I had a friend who was an early 'Google Explorer' and he looked ridiculous as he walked around with his Google Glass – there's a reason why they called them Glassholes.' I did try them and told him that – like CD Roms of yore – they were a limited application technology, better served in the enterprise space. Which is exactly where they're being utilized," according to Halper.
While the technology was compelling, the price was prohibitive for consumers at $1500 a pair. The video camera capabilities raised privacy concerns resulting in some negative press, criticism and even prompting legislative action. The quirky look of users when wearing Google Glass added to their disappointing reception.
While Google Glass failed and was discontinued in 2017, as Halper notes, there is a recognized need for them in large corporations and institutions; an enterprise version was recently released.
"The Segway certainly has a cool factor, both in its underlying technology which achieves balance using tilt sensors, and gyroscopic sensors." Photo Courtesy of Entity Magazine
The Segway – is a two-wheeled, self-balancing scooter invented by prolific inventor Dean Kamen and marketed as a Personal Transporter. The Segway certainly has a cool factor, both in its underlying technology which achieves balance using tilt sensors, and gyroscopic sensors, which can reach a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour.
While touted as the next big thing in transportation, the Segway's price and its uniqueness proved too challenging. At $5000 a unit, it was a luxury item for most consumers. On par with the cost of a used car, it offered less reliable transportation options. The company projected sales of 50,000 to 100,000 Segways in the first year, but only 6,000 were sold in the first two years.
As an early adopter, Peter Shankman discovered that riding it in NYC was problematic – one police officer told him to ride on the street, then another shooed him from the street and told him he belonged on the sidewalk, while yet another told him that its uses wasn't permitted at all.
While a failure with consumers, as was the case with Google Glass, the Segway has found some use at the enterprise level. It has been adopted by some municipalities for use by its police force, enabling them to patrol more of their precinct more quickly than they could on foot.Quick Response Codes [QR Codes] – are a type of two-dimensional barcode. Originally designed for the automobile industry in Japan, QR codes, we were promised, were going to revolutionize business with applications ranging from business cards to restaurants to directions to museums and beyond.
As a machine-readable label, QR Codes were essentially barcodes that contain information that can be accessed by scanning them with a specially designed reader. The first obstacle to adoption of QR Codes, was that one had to install a reader on their phone. Maybe this wouldn't be an obstacle today, but back in 2000 when they were first introduced, mobile phones weren't as feature-rich as they are today and consumers weren't accustomed to downloading apps as they are today.
The other problem with QR Codes was the inconsistent results that users encountered – not from the technology, but from the company's hyping their use.
Prospects and customers were cheered on as if they would be winning the lottery, and after jumping through a hoop to get the reader installed, then scanning the code, the hype lead to disappointment and frustration.
Users often found a regular coupon for a mere 10 percent off; not a prize worth the effort they had just put in to claim it.
QR Codes were seen on billboards, yet, there was no tangible way for a motorist to scan the QR Code – certainly not while driving. A phone number on a billboard still works easier than this recent technology reported to make it easier to access information, that created more work to use it.
QR Codes, or customized variations of them, have been co-opted by Snapchat very successfully. By creating their own version of a QR Code, and building a reader into their camera, Snapchat overcame prior obstacles and made them cool within their own ecosystem.
Eventually, all smartphones came equipped with QR code readers, but the public wasn't sold on their use and neither were companies. The Snapchat application is a unique success story for QR Codes. Otherwise, they have been a commercial failure.
Venture capitalists only expect 10 -20 percent of their companies to become successful, so despite touting something as the next best thing, they know that a number of stars need to be aligned for a digital innovation to succeed beyond the hype and attain that status. A winner isn't always based on the best technological innovation, but on several factors from ease of use, timing, to the right influencers singing its praises.
Some digital innovations weren't true failures, however, they failed to gain wide adoption with the general public. As Halper explained, “Google was founded by techies – techies don't put themselves into the shoes of civilians."
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.