The chip that never was

Are you a manager who, in an uncertain economic climate, is putting innovation and creativity on the backburner? Dave Wilson’s cautionary tale could make you re-think your strategy.

‘I knew something wonderful was going to happen,’ said Bobbie as they went up the road, but I didn’t think it was going to be this.’ – ‘The Railway Children’ by E. Nesbit.

Paul loved electronic engineering. He studied it in college and when he graduated, he landed a job designing semiconductor devices at one of the largest chip companies in the world.

Paul was so thrilled with his job. He turned up to his office at eight o’clock every morning and stayed late every night. So late, in fact, that some people thought he actually slept in his office. If the truth be known, sometimes he actually did.

One night, Paul had an original idea for a new chip. It was a radical notion, that much was certain, but Paul did the maths and proved that it was not only feasible to design and fabricate such a device, its performance would outshine anything else on the market.

Paul couldn’t wait to tell his management team about his new concept. He was so excited, the night before the weekly ‘management meeting’ he hardly slept a wink.

But Paul’s managers didn’t really get it. So they thanked him for his idea, complemented him on being such an intelligent individual, and put the idea on the back burner. Way back on the back burner.

But Paul was an optimist, a man who believed that the company he worked for would somehow reward his creativity. Because, after all, it was founded by some of the most dynamic people in the industry. So the following week, he raised the issue again. This time, he had even prepared some documents that outlined his idea in exquisite detail, realising that management looked more fondly upon concepts when they were written down on little bits of paper.

Once again, Paul was thanked again for being such a company man. Congratulated for being such a forward thinker. Again, he was fobbed off.

But did he give up? No siree, bob. The heck he did. If his management wouldn’t listen to him, others would. So he wrote an article. A 1500 word article, in fact, that described the device he had designed, how it worked and some potential applications. And when he had finished it, he sealed it up in a nice brown manilla envelope and sent it off to one of the leading industry trade journals.

Two months later, it appeared in print and was circulated to 200,000 Design Engineers world-wide.

Then, the phones at the large semiconductor company started to ring. When will this chip be available, they asked? How much does it cost, they wanted to know? Can I buy 100,000 of them, they said?

Suddenly, Paul’s idea became a much more important topic of conversation than it had been before. A lot of Vice Presidents of Marketing and Directors of Engineering were seen scuttling in and out of Paul’s managers’ office at a fairly rapid rate. They all looked pretty damn serious.

Eventually, Paul was called in for a chat. His manager informed him that the company had just received a million dollar order for a chip they didn’t have. A chip that only Paul could design.

And of course you know already exactly what was going to happen.