Innovation: Nintendo’s vision on using old tech, for new challenges

Yokoi Gunpei — inventor of Gameboy and other Nintendo solutions.

枯れた技術の水平思考, or ‘Lateral Thinking with Seasoned Technology‘ is the proven method, which Nintendo’s superhero Yokoi Gunpei often used to tinker new gaming products. Rather than focusing on shiny, new technology to make new gaming hardware, he created his masterly game consoles by using old technologies, for new purposes. For example, Yokoi preferred using non-color displays for the first Gameboy, to outcompete the battery life of his rivals, SEGA’s game-gear and Atari’s Lynx.

While SEGA and Atari were using brand new color displays, Nintendo deliberately chose to go for longer gameplay, using an older technology allowing them sell against a lower price and capturing way more marketshare. And it’s actually still one of the all time best selling devices, ever (taking a third place after Playstation 2 and Nintendo DS).

Source: Gamespot, 2017

Seasoned technology

Basically there are three important factors when choosing an older technology:

Model adapted from this Medium article.

When technologies become cheap, well-understood and abundant, a ‘sweet-spot’ is reached: this position enables companies to avoid risk factors, such as being too expensive, launching with product bugs or facing supply shortages.

Another big advantage of using this ‘seasoned tech’ approach is time to market: by using proven technologies, one can greatly reduce time to market, as expensive R&D processes, are unnecessary (and already completed by others) and thus can be avoided.

By using proven technologies, one can greatly reduce time to market, as expensive R&D processes, are unnecessary (and already completed by others) and thus can be avoided.

The opposite: solving old with the new

Right opposite of Nintendo’s approach is using new technologies, to solve old problems. Rather than focusing on the existing, proven technologies, the focus here is on brand new tech and the application of their potential.

In the so-called ‘exponential era’ we find ourselves in, technology is evolving faster than ever, thanks to things like Moore’s law and other factors (e.g. self-learning systems). For more on the Exponential era, check this video by Peter Diamandis.

Slight off-topic: contrary to what many believe, Moore’s law actually already ended some time ago, raising the question to what extent our exponential era will continue after the growth curve flattens somewhat. Artificial Intelligence and Quantum computing might be important innovations that will help continue our steep technology growth, thanks to their inherent qualities.

The promise of new technologies like blockchain, AI, 5G, DNA mapping and storage, Brain Machine Interface, and Adaptive Machine Learning, are huge — beyond comparison. That’s why many companies try to stay ahead of the game by installing expensive R&D and innovation labs, allowing them to ‘experiment and prototype the future’.

We’ve seen these labs popping up rapidly, across many industries, primarily in industries that didn’t require much core innovation over the last decades, such as the Financial Industry, oil & gas and Real Estate. For years, companies in these sectors have been lavishly enjoying the absence of radical industry shifts, and now that these shifts are taking place, they’re hurrying to catch up.

Some examples of this include:

  • Blockchain technology in the finance industry
  • Renewable and electric energy for large oil & gas companies
  • Changing buying and renting solutions in real estate (e.g. Zillow)

Innovation labs often fail due to a variety of reasons, mostly because of disappointing (or non-existing) ROI, or the lack of a product market fit, often combined with the absence of a responsibility-taking business unit. However, these ‘playground labs’ are still popular, as they make technology understandable, and ensure companies won’t ‘miss the boat’ when a certain technology is aimed to reach the ‘plateau of productivity‘.

Typical for companies that innovate in this kind of way, is that the innovation stems from a new technology, applied to an old problem. Rather than getting creative with the combination and synthesis of different existing technologies (and their application), the focus in on exploring what an emerging technology might do for a certain industry, and its problems.

Creative with existing tech

In Nintendo (among others), creativity is found in combining different existing technologies, to make something that’s greater than its individual parts, and not by exploring an immature technology, just to see how it can be applied.

For example, they created the ‘Virtual Boy’ that combined several technologies, into one solution. Sadly, this experiment failed and didn’t sell much, but it was another example of Yokoi’s vision on product development.

Years later, we witnessed a similar product launch of a (super) rudimentary multi-tech solution, which was Google’s attempt to start a VR-revolution: a cardboard device, that combines your smartphone screen with two simple lenses, creating a basic virtual reality experience. They’re on sale now for USD $10, by the way.

Take-away: innovation is not a one-way street

Innovation comes in different shapes and forms. Whereas Nintendo innovates by coming up with creative, new ways to combine mature technologies, other companies experiment with emerging technologies to find possible new, breakthrough applications.

One is not better than the other, and both of these innovation-paradigms can be integrated in one and the same organization (e.g. setting up an innovation lab, whilst planning the launch of a new product that has been tested through and through).

This article was published by Umvel. We help challengers design, build and scale their business.

We build businesses for challengers. We are a US/Mexico based software development firm that creates custom digital solutions across all industries.