The New York Times recently reported that the Finnish technology firm Nokia had developed a prototype for the an internet-ready touch screen years before the iPad. The company didn’t pursue developing it for the market because they got cold feet, worrying it would be an expensive flop:

“It was very early days, and no one really knew anything about the touch screen’s potential,” Mr. Hakkarainen explained. “And it was an expensive device to produce, so there was more risk involved for Nokia. So management did the usual. They killed it.”

Yikes! Nokia did the very thing that famously puts the kibosh on innovation: taking what seemed like the safe route at the time. It called to mind two quotes we had in our files, both from a site of “space quotations/rocketry quotes“. (Rocket launches and space travel would never had occurred if safety was the main concern.)

“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise. — Cornelius Tacitus

“Insisting on perfect safety is for people who don’t have the balls to live in the real world”.
— Mary Shafer, NASA Ames Dryden. Complete text of the newsgroup posting with context, circa 1989.

The first title we wrote for this post was “The Desire for Safety as Creativity Stifler”. But we realized that Nokia showed real creativity in developing a prototype for an internet tablet way before anyone else. The problem was that Nokia’s management was unwilling to risk putting their big idea into the world and exposing it to the marketplace, public opinion and possibly failure.

…it’s that embracing the possibility of serious failure thing again…

(BTW, the photo, above, is the first rocket ever launched at Cape Canaveral.)

Related post: Stefan Sagemeister on ‘Serious Failure’ and Training the Mind

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