Leadership, Innovation, and Old Age

IBM recently unveiled its new supercomputer, called Sequoia. It was developed for the U.S. Energy Department for use at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The supercomputer will run simulations to test the soundness of the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weaponry.

Whoop-te-do, you’re thinking… this matters to me, how…? Follow along with me.

  • The Sequoia is 20 times faster than its predecessor, the Roadrunner.
  • The Sequoia works at 20 petaflops per second (a petaflop is equal to a quadrillion calculations per second — quadrillion. Let’s hide that word from politicians, shall we?).
  • The Sequoia is equivalent to 20 million modern-day laptop computers.
  • The Sequoia is equivalent to as many as 300 billion Commodore 64s.
  • I bought a Commodore 64 in 1984.

Again, why is this relevant? I’ll tell you…

Look at the progress made in technology hardware in 25 years. The change and advancements are astonishing. And it’s not just the technology, it’s the business. That Commodore 64 cost me $595. After 25 years of annual inflation, you can buy a laptop today for that same price.

Incredible innovation, in the face of 5% gross margins. GROSS margins. At that level, gross is both a financial term and a teenage adjective. Yet the innovations keep coming…

I recently had lunch with a senior hardware executive. Netbooks are the latest craze, from a buying public hell-bent on receiving ten-dollar computing power for a five-dollar bill. And the industry is responding… margins (those gross things mentioned above) may reach 3.5%.

Innovate or die.

Are you innovating? Are you even trying to innovate? Matching your competitors is not innovation. It’s reactionary and second-best.

Remember — you can’t lead from the rear.

But that’s just me…


Kevin Berchelmann

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