How We Went from the Walkman to the iPod

Re/Code has excerpted a portion of a book entitled Disrupting Digital Business: Create an Authentic Experience in the Peer-to-Peer Economy  by R. “Ray” Wang which details the business transformation from everyone using Walkmans to buying iPods.

You’re either going to disrupt or be disrupted in a digital transformation. As we all know, the pace of change has been intense. The incremental innovation that is out there is normal, but companies that follow that approach won’t be able to keep up.

Consider the Sony Walkman. It was invented nearly 35 years ago. One could argue that this was Sony’s big transformational innovation, the one thing that really put Sony on the map as an innovator. You could make the case that other products — perhaps TVs — did that, as well. You could argue that PlayStation was an innovative part of Sony’s identity. But other companies also had video game systems. You could say that Sony led in CD and DVD players. But they partnered with Philips, so Sony wasn’t alone. You could talk about Sony’s Trinitron technology, but that was before the Walkman.

Sony actually hasn’t really innovated in the past 35 years. In fact, the company has been destroyed by others like Samsung because it hasn’t had much transformative innovation. Sony’s next innovation after the Walkman was the double-cassette Walkman, allowing users to put two cassettes in the cassette case and play up to 180 minutes of music.

But that shift from the Walkman to the double-cassette Walkman was an incremental innovation. The transformational piece would have been an MP3 player.

This is a fascinating study in both technology and business. Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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