The Derailed Express

In 1850 it took the average piece of mail five weeks to travel from Missouri to California. This was frustrating, since in 1848 somebody had discovered gold in the California hills and the wild rush was on. America was moving west and needed a much more efficient, streamlined way to communicate with its West Coast. The Pony Express was the answer. Four hundred horses. A hundred and fifty riders. Two hundred stations, and the innovation of lightweight, leather cantinas to carry the mail westward. It was a fantastically complicated arrangement requiring careful forethought and detailed planning. And, having woven together this complicated system, the inventors managed to streamline the process so well that, on its very first journey, what was once a five-week trek turned into a ten-day sprint. Speeches were made, fireworks fired, a great innovation was celebrated.

And then, Baron Schilling destroyed it all.  He didn’t do it deliberately of course. But he did invent the telegraph. And with that one invention, he created a new worldview, one that rendered obsolete the entire system that they had worked so hard to streamline.

An organization’s work-flow streamlining initiatives are the Pony Express — worthy efforts to automate and optimize complex decision making processes.  Who are our Baron Schillings?   The idea innovating businesses and individuals mushrooming across our planet.

So which one is more important – idea or workflow innovation?  While the timing of invention ensured Telegraph bankrupt Pony Express, it is conceivable the advent of Telegraph may have lagged that of Pony Express by several decades.  A far-sighted organization is one which has balanced focus on idea as well as workflow innovation.  You see, once an “idea” matures, the attention shifts to its “workflow”…

Adapted, Skills, Innovation, Style


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The Derailed Express - Arun Nathani Blog