Over the last month, I’ve seen a series of events related to innovation that given me new levels of insight into how creative breakthroughs happen. This is the first of three posts explaining the events, and the mind-altering, myth-breaking, insights that have crystalized the way I look at innovation and execution.
A full four weeks ago, I saw Malcolm Gladwell keynote the PMI Global Congress in Dallas. Here was his opening point:
The paradox of innovative organizations is that they are followers and borrowers, not leaders and innovators
Malcolm Gladwell offers provocative observations on innovation
He followed that point with an avalanche of examples:
- During Bekaa air battle in 1982 (http://bit.ly/nee2Aa), Israel was the first to use drones, awax radar, and SAM missiles at the same time. These were technologies pioneered by the highly funded, innovation-oriented Soviets; then developed by the Americans with budget oversight and “get the job done” culture; finally utilized by a crisis-motivated Israel with no R&D budget at all. He found this example in the military innovation book by Adamsky
- The mouse and the Graphical User Interface (GUI) were developed at the storied Xeroc Parc project in Palo Alto. Steve Jobs famously took that GUI and did what Xerox could not do: launch a commercial product with the technology (i.e. the Mac). It was a beautiful product and business success. But it was Microsoft who modified the technology into Windows, the most commercially successful operating system of all time.
- Friendster is the one that lays claim to the first pure-play social media pioneer. MySpace matured Friendster’s breakthrough idea, and sold out to News Corp for a half-billion dollars. Now we all talk about Facebook as the king of social media and its multi-billion dollar valuation.
Here is the myth-breaker: being first to market with a fresh new idea, does NOT correlate to success.
Zen-PM takes a snapshot of Malcolm Gladwell’s innovation talk at PMI Global Congress
The pattern is that innovation is carried out by three successive parties:
- First, The Inventors, who typify the innovative culture with big investments, and pioneer a new product, technology, or service.
- Then, The Implementors, who have less to invest, and focus on how to operationalize, productize, and monetize that invention.
- Finally, The Tweakers, who have very little resources, and make minor adjustments that transform the invention into a revolution.
Google is a company founded by tweakers of Lycos & Alta Vista. Sony ebooks were first, but Amazon dominates because they had the chance to see the impact of e-readers and then make adjustments. Finally, the iPad came along and introduce a tweaked tablet PC as a new challenge in the ebook space.
“Steve Jobs was always follower and borrower” The resurgence of Apple over the last 10 years, is based on his ability to tweak the PC, tweak the portable music player, tweak the blackberry, tweak the tablet PC, and now tweak the cloud.
…and if that wasn’t enough, he pressed further:
“Innovation at its best is a mass phenomenon, not an elite phenomenon.”
Gladwell’s asserts that the industrial revolution happened, because the West had an historical boom of dabblers and tweakers. James Watt was an implementor, only doubling steam efficiency; the anonymous tweakers increased it by another 500 times. Alexander Graham Bell’s voice-over-wire was only one of many contemporary tweaks of the telegraph’s signal-over-wire. Think of wikipedia. Think of crowd sourcing. Think of the old fashioned “suggestion box”.
It was a fascinating talk, and of course, wildly entertaining. Gladwell is a great story teller; memorizing an outline of his talk, offering just enough detail along the way, and adding energy throughout. Even his crazy hair helps amplify his enthusiasm.
But the talk would serve as the first in a personal series of innovation a-has. I’ll post those other reinforcing moments shortly. Until then, I leave you with this final quote and question: “Nimble adaptive organizations are mutually exclusive of innovative organizations.” Put another way, which kind of company do you work for? I’d like to hear if you think you are an ivory tower organization, or one that ruthlessly applies what already works?