Check out this awesome debate between Robert Scoble and Dave Winer over whether Microsoft innovates, or copies others’ innovations.
I tend to agree with Dave. Scoble is right when he brings up Photosynth as an innovation coming from Microsoft. On the other hand, the XBox’s online capabilities are not innovative at all. Letting gamers see other gamers’ high scores is hardly innovation. This has been going on for years on the Internet. XBox brought that idea to a console, but it doesn’t make it new in any way. Saying that this move is innovative is like saying the new iPod shuffle is innovative because it clips onto your clothing as opposed to going in your pocket. It’s neat and interesting, but not innovation.
Later, Scoble brings up Microsoft’s game “Halo.” Winer responds:
I have to admit that I haven’t played Halo, but of course I am familiar with it. I did a quick search and found that it was created by Bungie Labs, a Chicago company that Microsoft acquired six years ago.
To which Scoble replies:
Yes, and there’s always room for a company that innovates through acquisitions.
It seems that these gentlemen have two different definitions of innovation. I think both people would agree that companies don’t innovate. People innovate.
Any company can buy out a small innovative start-up. It takes a remarkable company to create innovative products from within. But to do that, companies need to let their employees take risks while on the clock. Google’s “20% time” policy comes to mind. Google employees are allowed to spend 20% of their time working on a project of interest. This kind of thing is what fosters creativity and invites innovation.
Whether Microsoft fosters that kind of development, I don’t really know. You should check out Microsoft’s Photosynth though. That’s innovation.