Portrait of Kipling at the National Portrait Gallery - one of my favorite museums
I found this quote by Rudyard Kipling, author of Gunga Din and the Jungle Book (remember Mowgli and Baloo?), when I worked at Documentum. I found it amusing that we would come up with an innovation and everyone would copy it. We would compete against other companies with capabilities like virtual documents, object models, auditing, query languages and workflow. We would focus on vertical solutions and use the crossing the chasm model and then you would see the competition do the same thing. Kipling said:
They copied all that they could follow
but they couldn't copy my mind
and I left 'em sweating and stealing
a year and a half behind.
But then we lost our eye on the ball. After Version 2.0 of Documentum, I really investigated the web, but I found a real lack of enthusiasm to apply Documentum to the web. Some Documentum people seemed to think that there would be a richer set of protocols on their way. I remember speaking to Jeff Miller who said that this was very interesting, but FileNet was our competition and we should have a laser-like focus on dominating that market. Kipling said:
And they asked me how I did it,
and I gave 'em the Scripture text,
"You keep your light so shining
a little in front o' the next!"
We started doing to the competition what they had done to us. About the time that Dave DeWalt came on board, we took on Interwoven using their own game. We came to match their capabilities and for awhile get ahead. This became the foundation for the Enterprise Content Management platform. Howard Shao then scouted the other missing pieces of a larger puzzle that included digital asset management, digital rights management and imaging. That force of innovation is now gone from Documentum and we will see how the next generation rises to the challenge.
The quotes from Kipling come from a poem called The “Mary Gloster”. It is about a dying old man who made his fortune the good, olde Victorian way. The man has grown bitter to see his seemingly ne’er-do-well son not know the benefits of hard work and keeping close to the roots of the old man’s success - the Sea. Those forces of innovation have died and he looking on to a better life in the hereafter. In case you are wondering, I’m not very religious, but I always like a good parable and object lesson.
Unlike the old man, I have had the chance to try it again and I love it. Interestingly, I am seeing the same pattern. We have been out long enough to start to see people copying what we are doing. We can’t be complacent though, there is still a lot of innovating to do.
There may be an object lesson as well for the next generation. I once wrote about the fact that the younger generation is not interested in computer science and information technology. Perhaps Web 2.0 is changing that or there are new sources of wealth around the corner. But just as wealth moved on from Britain in Dickie's generation, perhaps that wealth is now moving on to the developing world (the BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China) where they are interested in core value creation around boring old things like computer science.