I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the podcast of Phil McKinney’s interview with David Cochran about Cochran’s involvement on the team at Hewlett-Packard (HP) that designed the first pocket scientific calculator. The situation was interesting from the standpoint of innovation management and luck.
The situation Cochran describes was an example of simultaneous “top down” and “bottom up” innovation management. Management wanted a pocket size calculator and pushed the engineering staff relentlessly to provide it. At the same time, engineers had a lot of freedom to try out different things.
The role of industrial design, teamwork, market research, innovative technology, sales staff, and pricing are all touched on. What comes through loud and clear is that HP was moving into uncharted waters. They didn’t know what demand for such a device would be, they didn’t know how to price it, they didn’t know how to sell it, and for a long time, they had no idea how to fit the “guts” of the calculator into an object that would slide into a shirt pocket.
But management wanted one and that’s what was delivered. And I’m glad they did; the pocket calculator allowed me to give up both mechanical calculators and my trusty circular slide rule.
This is the first of a series of interviews McKinney will conduct about famous innovations and I’m looking forward to more.
Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis D. McDonald