June 16, 2002
In 1948 John Bardeen, William B. Shockley and Walter H. Brattain, all Bell Lab [Western-Electric] scientists invented the transistor. They had been looking for a way to make hearing aids more powerful, reliable, flexible, smaller, less-costly, run cooler and consume less electricity than existing vacuum tube-based hearing aids. They work, like much across Bell Labs, carried on the tradition of Alexander Graham Bell's work in support of people who were deaf. In 1956 Bardeen and his colleagues won the 1956 Nobel prize for physics for inventing the transistor. At the same time, in a yet unrelated event, Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka set up a new company in Japan. Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation (TTEC)
In 1952 Ibuka-san took a fact-finding trip to the US. The US was the home of technological innovation. He and Morita-san had read about Shockley’s work. Ibuka-san inquired about licensing the transistor technology from Bell Labs.
Bell Lab engineers advised Ibuka-san the best, and possibly only, commercial use for transistors was to make hearing aids. Ibuka-san bought a license for the transistor for $25,000
Ibuka-san and Morita-san had no interest in the hearing aid market. They had other ideas.
Morita-san was a man of vision and was able to think out of the box like few others.
When asked why he spent $25,000 to buy the rights to market the transistor he said, matter-of-factly, “to make and mass-market transistor radios.”
For a time Morita-san was the laughingstock of businesspeople around the globe. Morita-san’s engineers soon asked, “Why bother with that? After all, you are still going to have to use large speakers, not to mention all that cabinetry." Morita-san told them, "We will replace the big speakers with little ones.” “But with little speakers all the people gathered around the radio won’t be able to hear it" his marketing experts told him. "Then we will make our radios small enough so everyone can own one,” Morita-san said. "But radios are far too expensive to devote to just one person," his financial advisers told him. "Then we will make them inexpensive enough for an individual to own one" Morita-san insisted. “But there are not enough radio stations to support such an idea,” his engineers warned. “There will be,” Morita-san stated emphatically.
Well, the rest is history. Morita-san, changed the name of his company from Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation to Sony. Sony’s motto soon became, "One Person, One Radio" and Morita-san's ability to think unconventionally about technology originally pioneered to accommodate people with deafness wound up making Sony more profitable than any of its stockholders ever dreamed possible. Under the leadership of Morita-san Sony became the best-known name in consumer electronic appliances in the world.
I hope the attached presentation stimulates "out-of-the-box" thinking that helps to marry innovative thinking and accessible IT-design.
Steve Jacobs, President
IDEAL at NCR.
The Business Benefits of Accessible IT Design
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