Electronic Design

Learn From The Past, Or Make The Same Errors Again

Perhaps it's our destiny to forever repeat mistakes and learn the hard way what can and can't be done. Like the typical teenager who wants to experience both good and bad firsthand, we continually make many of the same mistakes when we don't heed the advice of others with experience.

Of course, not everyone who walked the path before us is a good role model. Some people might give us the wrong advice, and ignoring it could be a better decision. However, there are no clear signposts indicating the correct choice. So we must base our decision on knowledge, experience, and intuition.

When approaching a design, we often combine our past experience with that of others to develop a superior solution. Previous experience includes your own designs, work done by associates, and material published in technical journals and presented at conferences.

Many times, though, we start fresh without researching previous at-tempts to solve similar problems. This can cause us to repeat some mistakes. Yet it also leaves open many opportunities for innovation because none of the previous work would jade the direction of research and product development. Being innovative doesn't mean ignoring all past efforts. Rather, it requires taking the best of those efforts and combining it with your own ideas.

It goes without saying that designers love a challenge. Throw down the proverbial gauntlet by telling us that something can't be done, give us some time, and you'll have a potential solution. We like nothing more than tearing down technical barriers and moving on to the next challenge. This motivates designers to start new companies and craft new solutions.

But along the way, there are often many false starts, duplications of effort, and well-worn paths that lead to mediocre solutions. In the world of startups, many companies frequently vie for the same market. Thus, a lot of the companies end up doing the same research in their quest to develop innovative solutions to both existing and perceived future problems.

Currently, the network processor market is one example of too many developers and too few customers to absorb every innovative design. Almost 40 companies are providing or planning to supply high-performance solutions for a market, especially with its reduced economic vitality, that might only have capacity to absorb a dozen or so competitive solutions.

A similar scenario recently took place with companies developing chips for the voice-over-IP market. As the communications market cratered, close to a dozen companies developing silicon either closed their doors or were absorbed by larger organizations.

Can we learn from these cases how not to put ourselves into repetitive cycles that exhaust valuable engineering resources, while still providing innovative solutions? If we don't learn from the past, we'll just repeat our mistakes.

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