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The history of art is full of stories of developing linearly like Braque led to Picasso and Picasso led to this person and that person or that other - as if there was a sort of cause and effect chain.
You might recognize that quote. It’s part of a larger quote from last week’s newsletter which garnered a lot of response and reaction.
To remind, the topic was ‘Curation and Collaboration’.
‘Collaboration’ seemed to be your favourite word with a lower percentage of respondees reacting to ‘Curate’, That said, the understanding of ‘Collaboration’ seemed to be different to my understanding.
Getting together, talking, meeting, sharing ideas ... all good stuff - but if that is all it is. without that effort generating some kind of result, turns into something that was an objective/goal - was it really collaboration?
Same with Innovation
It was around 18 years ago that I was talking with a couple of friends about two of our favourite topics. 'Futures' and 'music'. MP3s existed. MP3 players existed - just. Let’s say it was ‘early’. One of my friends laid out an idea for a future service that would allow any of us to access some giant server and get any music we wanted, when we wanted, which we would then download to our computers so we could listen at our leisure. We would be able to pay as we go - or do a subscription for ‘all you can eat’. Brilliant. We all loved the idea.
So brilliant in fact that when you consider the multi-billion-dollar business that is Amazon/Spotify/Apple et al - Dave was well ahead of his time. It really was a GREAT idea.
But here’s the question. Is Dave an innovator?
Well, the story above is not enough information for you to say one way or the other, but the story did reveal that he was … actually is … a great ideas man - but I don’t think that the story above proves ‘innovative’.
Too many people think that having a creative idea is innovation. It is not. Innovation is having the creative idea and turning that idea into reality and (as Curtis writes), ‘creating impact’.
He wrote Innovation For Impact, which says the same thing. Far more eloquently on the upside. In many more words on the downside. 😂 (Side Note: the image at the top of this newsletter is the same used in the HBR article.) You see - it is all connected.
Innovation requires moving the idea into reality to create impact.
Which brings me to another innovation conversation this past week. Someone suggested that IBM was an innovative company. Are they?
Techcrunch, reports that in the last 27 years, IBM has held the number one spot for the number of patents granted. (9,262 in 2019 alone). So yes - very VERY good at registering patents. Hell, five IBM employees have won the Nobel Prize (1973, 1986 and 1987), so they are innovative. Right?
Question. If IBM was truly innovative, would Bill Gates have been able to build Microsoft (PC-DOS) or Larry Ellison Oracle (RDMBS and SQL)? Maybe a less famous story is the ‘floppy disk’. Originally developed by IBM, the guy who lead the team was Alan Shugart. You might not immediately recognize the name. Shugart Technologies was founded in 1978 and shortly thereafter changed its name to Seagate. True - it’s not been a steady journey for the company - but even today it boasts a $16 billion market cap. That is a whopping 15% of IBM’s market cap!
So IBM is innovative with ‘product’, but falls far short of turning that development into a commercial reality. On that basis, my friend Dave (see story above) is an innovator. OK, he didn’t develop anything - as far as I know - but shouldn’t innovation include the delivery of the value?
What do you think? Am I wrong? Being unfair?
From time to time I am asked to summarize what People First. What are we trying to achieve? This past week’s podcast is about just that. My friend and occasional contributor on the podcast turned the tables on me - and started asking questions. Enjoy.
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Interesting read and quote. Would love to share some if it too on Shugart! https://viralwegrow.com/newsletter
It is important to consider 'invention' to refract and anneal 'innovation' and vice versa.
Michael Porter/HBS defines innovation as 'productivity growth.' That's close to your definition. Technology, the application of science to productivity, is a central principle of innovation aka productivity growth.
Invention is the application of science to, well, science. Invention is creating something entirely new, with really no specific predicate advantage or affirmed advancement in mind.
Ideation, collaboration, authentic conversation, etc. play a key platform role in both innovation and invention.
Innovation is a lot more important to going concerns than invention.