For this story I’m taking you back to an age long long ago, before the release of the Samsung Omnia, Blackberry Bold, T-Mobile G1 and iPhone 3G, even before the release of the Nokia N95 or the iPod Touch. Let me take you back to August 2006…
Philosophizing about a school project
Around this time students Egbert Veenstra, Sytse-Jan Kooistra and Sam Baas were philosophizing about a new school project they had to work on. And as they were having a drink and a laugh in the summer sun they came up with the perfect idea for their project. They realized that the phone as we knew it back in 2006 could be so much more and wanted to develop a new revolutionary phone. Well, develop…they obviously did not have the resources to actually build a new phone, but they were armed with a much bigger weapon: their creative minds. And as they put their minds to work they developed a concept of the ultimate new phone.
The ultimate new phone
It had a touch screen that didn’t require a stylus, service-side processor power (whatever that is, but sounds really cool) and some ingenious ways for finger-touch text input. So they developed a concept phone by using some 3D designing software they used for their study and by making a picture of a table and a screenshot of their own phone’s screen they pulled together a nice mock-up. Now they only had to come up with a name and given the total switch their phone would make in people’s perception of a mobile phone they decided that it had to be named Switch. But while they were working on their project, they were also thinking of sending their concept phone to some leading tech blogs to see how hard it was to fool those guys. They only needed to associate their concept with a big company. Apple? Google? Microsoft?
Around the same time, but in a slightly different setting, Apple HQ in Cupertino, California, the research and development department of Apple was working on a new phone as well. A revolutionary phone. A phone that would totally change the way people thought about phones. Nearly six months later they finished it, not very surprising it was called the iPhone and CEO Steve Jobs was able to startle the world with a whole new concept. The world of mobile would never be the same again.
Around this time, January 2007, the three Dutch students were watching Steve Jobs’ keynote as well. And as you can imagine they were stunned when they saw a real phone that was much like the idea they had been working on for the last six months. They were dedicated to get at least a bit of the attention and as soon as the rumors about Google creating a phone came around, they knew exactly what to do: leak their Google Switch to the biggest gadget blogs by sending some fake blurry pictures.
The hype they wanted
Now take a moment to Google “google switch”, do both an image search and a text search and have a glance at the results. The guys got what they wanted and created a hype in which all big gadget blogs were involved.
Ideas are open knowledge
But what’s the main takeaway of this story? It actually reminded me of a passage from my bible. My bible is written by marketing god Paul Arden, who was creative director at Saatchi&Saatchi and passed away earlier this year. His book is titled: It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be. Allow me to cite a passage which is completely in line with this story:
“Ideas are open knowledge. Don’t claim ownership. They’re not your ideas anyway, they’re someone else’s. They are out there floating by on the ether. You just have to put yourself in a frame of mind to pick them up.”
I truly believe that finding an idea is by far the easiest part of innovation. Because 99% of every idea is about stuff that is already out there. If your idea isn’t based on a lot of stuff that’s already around, nobody would understand you. So if you look at this story from that perspective, it is not very surprising that three young Dutch guys and Apple had the same ideas around the same time. It’s all about what comes after the idea, about having the will, the believe, the drive, the energy, to make your idea happen. And if you have those qualities, and if you’re lucky, you might just become very very rich.
You can read the full story from the students themselves here.