The NIH (Not Invented Here) Barrier

www.tinyurl.com/2drsrejectionstory


This page exists because the vast majority of engineering people have spent their lives in large companies and have never experienced what it is like to be an individual or tiny company trying to sell ideas, Intellectual Property (IP) or designs to large technology companies and they really have no idea what it is like.

Although this web page desribes my experience in trying to crack the NIH barrier, I have no doubt that every individual or tiny company will have essentially the same experience.

We all have a strong tendency to believe that if someone comes up with a new and useful product idea, it will be immediately accepted, companies will be eager to develop and manufacture it, buyers will rush to buy it, and it will be highly successful, but, in my opinion, that belief usually is not true.

People are creatures of habit, and they do not necessarily want new things.  Many people prefer old, proven things to new, unproven things.  For example, someone may invent a new and improved mousetrap which may actually be much better than existing mousetraps, but many people will object saying, "what's wrong with the mousetrap I'm using?  I've been using that type of mousetrap for 40 years, it works well, it’s reliable, I know how to use it, I'm used to it, and I'm not going to change to some other type of mousetrap."  There’s nothing wrong with that way of thinking, but that type of thinking makes it extraordinarily difficult to get new ideas listened to, fairly evaluated and implemented.

New ideas are disruptive and new radical ideas can be immensely disruptive.  People, companies, industries, and management hierarchies do not like disruptions and will oppose anything that is extraordinarily disruptive.  The strength of the opposition will be in proportion to how disruptive the new thing is.  The more disruptive the thing is, the more opposition there will be to it.

I used to think that if someone came up with a really great idea that would greatly benefit society, everyone would be excited about it and it would easily be accepted because it was such a great idea and would benefit everyone.  I have come to believe now, based on actual real-world experience over a lifetime, that the greater the idea is, the more likely it will be totally rejected and not accepted at all.  In fact, you could not give it away.  Nobody would want it because it would be too disruptive and would probably cause a great shift in our society away from some established systems and institutions and the powers that control those systems and institutions would use their power to make sure the new disruptive thing was not implemented.  You see an example of this type of a situation with Nikola Tesla’s proposed AC power distribution system versus Thomas Edison’s established DC power distribution system.  (Edison did everything within his power to prevent AC power systems from being developed including publicly electrocuting animals using AC power to try to make the public afraid of AC power.  By the way, the AC electrical generation and distrubiton system envisiond by Nikola Tesla is the one all of us are using today.)

If, for example, someone invented a free electricity machine, what would that mean if it was accepted and implemented?  The whole electrical power generation and distribution system and all of the plants, equipment and management hierarchies would become obsolete, many jobs would be lost and it would be extraordinarily disruptive to thousands and thousands of people.  Obviously, people need jobs and want incomes and many people would strongly object to and oppose such a change.

It probably will be very difficult for anyone to believe the statements made on this web page unless they have spent their lifetimes, as I have, in promoting new and innovative ideas and observing how people really react to those ideas - not how one would hope, think or wish they would react, but how they actually do react.  They react in ways that most people would never expect.

For more than 30 years not one single person has objected to developing a 2D-RS HDD because any of the statements or claims made by ECC Tek (see 2D-RS HDDs) are untrue, incorrect, inaccurate or misleading.  To the best of ECC Tek’s knowledge, all of ECC Tek’s claims are true, accurate, correct and not misleading.   It appears that whether the statements and claims made by ECC Tek are true or not does not matter because ECC Tek has no political power when it comes to deciding whether or not 2D-RS HDDs are developed into commercial products.  The only political power ECC Tek has is the power of the words it has published on the web and in documents.

One of the most difficult things to understand is that, since there are many indications the 2D-RS HDD idea makes sense, could be highly successful and could potentially be a revolutionary product, why is it that every HDD company in the world has repeatedly refused to seriously consider developing a 2D-RS HDD product for around 30 years (more than a quarter of a century) and today continue to reject the idea?  I first had the idea of using an error-correcting code to create faul-tolerant storage systems in 1982 (34 years ago) and presented the ideas to the CEO and CTO of what is now Seagate in 1985 (31 years ago).

2D-RS HDDs would not be difficult for an existing large disk drive company such as Seagate, WD or Toshiba to develop.  Most-likely, the questions that are most difficult to answer regarding 2D-RS HDDs will never be answered until some disk drive company develops one.

Some people say, “If the 2D-RS HDD idea is so great, why hasn’t some company developed one?”  Those people do not seem to understand that many things that, in the end, proved to be very valuable, good and highly successful were initially repeatedly rejected over long periods of time.  Norman Vincent Peale had his first book “The Power of Positive Thinking” rejected so many times that he finally gave up and threw the manuscript in the waste basket.  His wife retrieved it, and it was finally published and became wildly successful.  Most publishers repeatedly refused to consider publishing J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books.  C.S. Lewis did not publish “The Chronicles of Narnia” for years because it was rejected by his best friend J.R.R. Tolkien.  Robert M. Pirsig's book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” sold 5 million copies worldwide.  It was originally rejected by 121 publishers, more than any other bestselling book, according to the Guinness Book of Records. (See this site.)  Philo Farnsworth never ever got the credit he deserved for his invention and died depressed.  Almost nobody even knows Farnsworth’s name even though he invented one of the most important inventions ever - Television.  RCA claimed credit for television.  It took years for Nikola Tesla to get the first prototype made of his induction motor.  Tesla died in poverty.  Many people consider the copy machine the most important invention of the 20th century.  For 6 years Chester Carlson tried to interest a company in his invention.  Companies such as IBM, RCA, and GE turned him away.   It wasn't until 1959 – 21 years after the original invention – that Carlson's idea turned into reality.  It took Carlson several more years before a practical version was developed. Consider the story of Louis Braille.  The world we live in is not ideal.  There are tens if not hundreds of other similar stories of ideas being repeatedly rejected over long periods of time followed by tremendous success.

Rejection of new things is natural and normal.  Whenever a new organ is transplanted into a body, that body naturally rejects it and extraordinary efforts must be taken to fight back against the rejection of the new organ.

Engineering employees in existing HDD companies can repeatedly reject the 2D-RS HDD idea and then they can say, “If the 2D-RS HDD idea is so great, why hasn’t some company developed one?”  That’s a good strategy to prevent 2D-RS HDDs from ever getting developed.

I was probably one of the most innovative, creative, dedicated and hard-working design engineers at Control Data from 1969 to 1985 and was the instigator of many innovative yet practical and down-to-earth projects and products, and I know exactly how other similar design engineers think.  They think there is nothing anyone else can do that they could not do as well or better themselves.  They believe in themselves and their own abilities which is a necessary quality for being a good design engineer.  Because of that, they would never ever accept the idea of licensing a design from outside their own organization.  I was irate when the CDC Disk Drive Division decided to license mechanical designs for a small disk drive from an outside, independent mechanical design engineer and thin film head designs from Memorex.  I said, “Why would any rational manager decide to license designs from outside when we have hundreds of our own creative and competent designers right here!”  I was outraged by it and let everyone around me know how I felt.  However, in looking back, the decision to license designs was the right decision for the Control Data Disk Division.  If they had not done it, they probably would not have remained competitive.  I know with 100% certainty that good designers would never agree to license designs from some outside party, and they will always come up with reasons not to do so.  I was 100% successful in coming up with reasons why every idea I was asked to evaluate that came from outside Control Data was rejected.

 

It doesn’t take a very creative design engineer to come up with numerous reasons why 2D-RS designs should not be licensed from ECC Tek such as the following:

  1. “I don’t have to do what Phil White says.” (Actual statement by an HDD CTO)   That is clearly a true statement.  HDD companies have all the power to either prevent 2D-RS HDDs from being developed or to cause them to get developed.  With respect to the development of 2D-RS HDD products, Phil White and ECC Tek are completely at the mercy of the HDD companies.  It is unreasonable for any startup company to even consider developing a new HDA since it would take billions of dollars of investment.  The handful of HDD companies left in the HDD industry after consolidation constitute what could be called a “virtual monopoly” which controls everything that has to do with HDDs, and that situation is unlikely to change.  Numerous employees in the disk industry switch jobs annually, and there are only two options available to them if they want to stay in the disk drive industry.  Collusion destroys competition.

 

  1. “Phil thinks we don’t know what we are doing.” (Actual statement by an HDD CTO)   The disk drive industry has done a great job in continuing to increase capacity through the years, but they have not done a great job of looking at alternative ways of designing storage products such as the 2D-RS ideas or the idea of spinning a tiny cylinder at over 100,000 RPM in a vacuum rather than spinning a disk at less than 20,000 RPM in air.

 

  1.  “We’re not interested in any of your wild-ass ideas.” (Actual statement by a very high-level, long-time, highly-influential HDD Engineering Executive)

 

  1. “It’s not on our product road map.” (Actual reply from HDD manager)  If a research organization was doing cancer research and someone from outside their organization came to them with a proven cure for cancer, would it make sense for that organization to say, “We cannot accept your discovery because it does not fit into our internal plans.”?

 

  1. “We’re going in a different direction.” (Actual reply from HDD company)  Most-likely there is no practical alternative to a 2D-RS ECC system to create high performance, fault-tolerant storage systems.

 

  1. “We’re looking at other alternatives.” (Actual reply from HDD company)  Again, most-likely there is no practical alternative to a 2D-RS ECC system to create high performance, fault-tolerant storage systems.

 

  1. “If we implemented Phil’s ideas, how would that benefit me?” (Actual reply from an engineering manager)  This is probably a key question because most-likely no employee in any technology company will make any decision that he/she does not think will benefit them directly.  Whether or not it benefits users of their products and/or the stockholders seems to be irrelevant.

 

  1. “We’ve already seen and rejected what you’ve proposed before.  What’s different about your current proposal?” (Actual reply from an HDD company)  Does Billy Graham alter what the Bible states if he doesn’t get any converts in one crusade in order to get some converts in his next crusade?  I don’t think so.  If something is really true, it continues to be true independent of the passage of time.

 

  1. “We are not in business to make ECC Tek or Phil White rich.” True.

 

  1. “Phil White does not understand our business.” May be true.

 

  1. “Phil is incompetent.” Not true.

 

  1. “Phil White is a loser.” Not true.

 

  1. “Phil White is naive.” Could be true but not likely.

 

  1. “Why would we need Phil White or any ECC technology he has developed?  We have our own ECC experts.” It’s true that no company “needs” Phil White or any ECC technology he has developed, but it might be in their best interest to accept Phil’s ideas and the technology he has developed instead of rejecting it.

 

  1. “If Phil’s ideas are so great, why hasn’t someone implemented them?”  So far the companies who have the resources to implement the ideas refuse to do so.

 

  1. “Why doesn’t he implement the ideas himself if they are so great?” Neither Phil White or ECC Tek has the resources to implement the ideas themselves on their own.

 

  1. “Anything Phil White can do, we can do better.”  Maybe true, maybe not.

 

  1. “We would never consider implementing any ideas that come from outside our own organization because people outside our organization are not one of ‘us’.”  That is, they are not one of us ‘Good Ol’ Boys’.

 

  1. “ECC Technologies, Inc. has no value.” The monetary value of any thing normally varies with time and, at any particular point in time, is the amount of money a buyer is willing to pay for it.  Many things with no monetary value have enormous nonmonetary value.

 

  1. “Phil White is a troublemaker.” Not true.

 

  1. “Phil White is a pest, a nuisance and a pain in the ass.” Not true but it may seem that way to some.

 

  1. “We completely understand the NIH (Not Invented Here) factor, and, to the best of our ability, we’ve done a completely objective evaluation of what you have to offer and what you offer does not meet our needs.”  This is what might be called a “sophisticated rejection”.

 

  1. “We cannot disclose the error characteristics of our memory devices.  Therefore, we cannot work with ECC Tek.”  I spent about 3 years of my life in the Control Data Magnetics and Circuits Research Divison studying and analyzing HDD error statistics, and I can tell you with complete assurance that collecting and analyzing error statistics on any memory device is almost a complete waste of time. One does not need to know detailed error statistics about any new memory technology before developing an ECC system for it for a number of reasons.  First, manufacturing processes change over time and you will never have an accurate statistical picture of memory statistics currently being manufactured.  You are shooting at a moving target.  Second, no matter what the error statistics are, you only have a few choices about what error-correcting codes to use.  Third, studying and analyzing error statistics just delays the development of new memory systems.  Fourth, everyone has a pretty good idea of the most-likely types of errors without doing any analysis. In my view, the best policy is to develop future ECC systems with what you believe is enough power to correct the errors you expect to see and get a prototype built as soon as possible. If testing reveals that you need more error correction power, develop a new ECC version (which is easy to do – just takes more gates) with more correction power.

 

  1. “We’re too busy to evaluate your stuff.” This is never a good reason to pass up on a valid opportunity.

 

If you are an engineer in an HDD company you can easily come up with more reasons why 2D-RS designs should not be licensed to add to the above list.  It only takes one of them to prevent 2D-RS HDDs from being developed in your company.

Any one of the above “reasons” can be used to reject the 2D-RS ideas because executive managers, CEOs, etc. trust the judgement of technology managers.  If a technology manager thinks the submitter of an idea is incompetent or a troublemaker, for example, the senior management will trust his/her judgement regarding that matter.  Several CEOs of technology companies have e-mailed me saying “I don’t know anything about ECC”.  They have no choice other than to trust the judgement of technology people under them.

As long as employees in HDD companies who have repeatedly rejected the 2D-RS HDD ideas for the last quarter century continue to receive pay raises and promotions (in other words, are rewarded for that behavior), the 2D-RS HDD ideas will never get implemented unless some executive in some HDD company who has wisdom, courage and insight orders that they be developed.  That executive also has to have enough wisdom, understanding, insight and courage to stop their company’s lawyers from making decisions for the company because all lawyers are rigorously trained to eliminate risk and there will always be risk in developing any new idea and therefore all lawyers will advise against it.  With the possible exception of Steve Jobs at Apple, as far as I know, all CEOs of large technology companies rely on their technical people to make technical decisions and will not get involved in making those kinds of decisions so you can pretty much rule out the idea of any CEO intervening.  When CEOs believe they have a secure position and are receiving millions of dollars in compensation every year, what incentive do they have to take a risk and stick their necks out?  None.

Even if a CEO ordered that some new idea be developed without the approval of the technical people under him/her, that development effort most-likely would not succeed because almost every person resents being forced to do something against their will, and most-likely will do everything within their power to sabotage the development effort to make sure it ends in failure.  That’s human nature.

"Without believing...

A true King in a true Kingdom does not have to have a reason or justification for His actions.  He is completely free to do whatever He chooses to do whether He has a reason for what He does or not.

To the best of my knowledge, no storage company has had any justifiable reason for rejecting the 2D-RS ideas for 31 years.  They don't have to have a reason.  Up to now, they have had all the political power.  That's just the way it is.

One reason HDD companies have not accepted the 2D-RS HDD ideas for the last quarter century is because, up to now, they have been able to ignore the idea without any negative consequences.  As soon as solid-state mass storage companies start to become profitable and HDD revenues start declining, then there will be a reason for HDD companies to do something other than what they have been doing for the last 50 years.  Even then, HDD companies may not be able to change.  Carriage manufacturers could not make the transition to automobiles and vacuum tube manufacturers could not make the transition to transistors and went out of business.  Many intelligent, capable, technical and analytical people believed and would have argued that the Titanic was unsinkable up until the time it hit the iceberg that sunk it.

The real threat to HDDs most-likely will come from solid-state memory technologies such as Memristors, RaceTrack, STT-MRAM, PCM and other solid-state technologies that are currently being developed or some combination of them rather than from NAND Flash.  NAND Flash has given everyone a small sample taste of what’s to come.

If 2D-RS HDDs ever get developed and are commercially successful, most-likely the people who opposed their development for more than 30 years will be eager to declare that they were actually in favor of the idea all along.  As time passes, it wouldn’t be too surprising if those same people were actually given credit for coming up with the idea in the first place.  That’s human nature.

If employees in the United States storage industry continue to have the same attitude they have had in the past regarding the 2D-RS ideas, the ideas most-likely will end up being developed in some country other than the United States.

Links

2D ECC Concepts

2D-RS SSDs

2D-RS HDDs

2D-RS HDD Products

2D-RS Storage Systems

Basic ECC Concepts

Binary BCH Design Customization

Correcting Cell Failures

Cylinder Drive Concept

ECC Tek’s Web Site

Finite Fields, RS Codes and RS RAID

Finite Fields with 4-bit Elements

Important High-Level ECC Design Considerations

Iterative Decoding of 2D Codes

LDPC and RS Codes

Most Important Disk Drive Facts

PRS Patent

The Danger of Overemphasizing Theory

Understanding RS RAID