Thursday, April 29, 2010

History's Importance in Tech

Steve Jobs laid the smack-down on Adobe today in a terrific essay on why Apple is not allowing Adobe onto its mobile platforms. There is a lot of "he said/she said" in this battle but the bottom line is that Apple is creating an incredible set of devices that are changing the world at record speed. Adobe wants in there, as they should, but Jobs is right in that they shouldn't have to wait for Adobe. It's a case of leverage, and right now, Apple has it so they get to dictate what happens. This is how the tech business works, it's just that it's rarely this public.

This brings me to a broader point though. The first thing Jobs does in his essay is invoke the past:

"Apple has a long relationship with Adobe. In fact, we met Adobe’s founders when they were in their proverbial garage. Apple was their first big customer, adopting their Postscript language for our new Laserwriter printer. Apple invested in Adobe and owned around 20% of the company for many years. The two companies worked closely together to pioneer desktop publishing and there were many good times. Since that golden era, the companies have grown apart. Apple went through its near death experience, and Adobe was drawn to the corporate market with their Acrobat products. Today the two companies still work together to serve their joint creative customers – Mac users buy around half of Adobe’s Creative Suite products – but beyond that there are few joint interests."

He's giving the reader context, showing that this isn't a snap decision and that in essence, he knows Adobe better than almost anyone, after all, he was there when it started. Jobs has played this game with Adobe and others and is reminding the reader of it.

In technology industries, it's incredible important to understand the history. I'm not sure if it's more or less important in tech (including med device & biotech), but I often here that "this time it's different." I disagree.

While a few key features can be different, the overall strategy, players and points of leverage are rarely different. Moreover, Tech compromises the most competitive industries in the world, so a small competitor who understands history will recognize the leverage points in a new platform or relationship. For me, this is one rason why tech is so interesting and it's why you need to understand the history, so you can see the leverage points too.

If you work in tech (again Med Tech counts), my advice to you is to read these two books. It will give you the backstory across Tech, and if the back story is important enough for Jobs to invoke it in his first paragrpah, it's important for all of us to understand it.

Founders at Work

From Alchemy to IPO