Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Invention of the Day: Piano

In the end of the 17th century, Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco (May 4, 1655 – January 27, 1731), a maker of musical instruments working for the Medici family in Florence, invented the piano.

A Cristofori piano at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
From a modern inventor perspective, the Cristofori's solution deserves our attention because its success can be directly attributed to breaking a trade-off. In the case of the piano, the trade-off was between the sound volume and the expressive control that a musical instrument afforded the player. Before the piano, musicians had to use two instruments: clavichord and harpsichord,
While the clavichord allowed expressive control of volume and sustain, it was too quiet for large performances. The harpsichord produced a sufficiently loud sound, but offered little expressive control over each note. The piano offered the best of both, combining loudness with dynamic control.
Although we are taught throughout engineering, design, economics, and business courses that good solutions create trade-offs, the invention of the piano shows us that great solutions break trade-offs.

We discuss the topic in greater detail in the Prologue of Scalable Innovation. Some of the invention techniques for breaking trade-offs and dilemmas can also be found in my blog.

tags: trade-off, invention, innovation, art

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