You can’t buy Innovation

Published On 2011/04/16 | By Kurt Bales | Rant

Last weekend I was interviewing a potential new staff member for a job we have going, and we started discussing various vendors strengths and weaknesses. I put forward that I would question buying hardware from a vendor who just copies everyone else and doesn’t innovate on their own undertaking.

The response from one of the people present was that you can buy innovation (eg Cisco buying back Nuova, HP buying 3Com and thus H3C). I didn’t respond at first to this statement because I wasn’t really sure how I felt. After some thought I have decided how I feel.

You cannot buy innovation, you can only buy innovative product lines. Innovation is an ongoing process

Anybody with a hefty wallet can buy a company who is making some new products and bring them into your own portfolio, but this is only buying an innovative product line. To be truly innovative is a corporate culture kind of thing. If your company does not believe in innovation as a way of life then purchasing any new products is only going to move you in very small baby steps – steps that will possibly become dead-ends without appropriate investment in research and development.

Corporate Culture can be changed or learned. Various companies throughout corporate history have brought in new management who have been able to change the core practices. Sometimes this can be through grass-roots change, or from a visionary new C-Level exec, but without fail it has required key changes be made to how the company does business and what values are important to them.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again if you are just doing what everyone else is doing then why should I buy from you?

If you are waiting for the standards instead of innovating new ways to do things today, then I guess I will come back to you next refresh cycle – cos you cannot meet my needs today.

Maybe this is a naive view, and as always Im happy for those wiser than me to “show me the light”

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About The Author

Kurt is a Network Engineer based out of Sydney Australia. He a the Senior Network Engineer at ICT Networks where he spends his time building Service Provider networks, and enterprise WAN environments. He holds his CCNP and JNCIE-ENT, and currently studying for his JNCIE-SP and CCIE R&S. Find out more about Kurt at and you can follow him on Twitter.
  • Not necessarily a wiser voice from me, but a different one:

    I've bought from a number of innovative hardware companies over the years – including some who were still in venture funding rounds. They do have a completely different corporate mentality – although corporate probably isn't the right word! Neat stuff, agile, great features, and often a direct line to the guys writing the code.

    There were a lot of jobs I was involved in though where all I wanted was a vendor who did exactly what everyone else was doing, but with just the right tweaks – management, form factor, power supplies, etc.. I wanted a product with a long lifecycle and a stable code base. I didn't want a vendor who would be suggesting I update software every couple of months to turn on those last couple of features they promised, but hadn't quite got into shipping quality code.

    Two sides of a coin here – innovation is great, but there are definitely reasons for buying from the boring guys – especially if they make good hardware, have a stable corporate structure, don't release often, but keep their products out there for years at a time.