We chose the pursuit of strategic opportunities as the theme of this IQ since these are the opportunities that significantly move the needle of a company’s growth and challenge current capabilities, tolerance for risk and operational mindset.
A lot of innovators are thinking about how an established company can effectively pursue strategic opportunities, and in this issue, we highlight some of the best material we’ve found — and offer a few of our own ideas, too .
A brief overview of the forces and trends driving new innovation processes, methods and tools to help companies pursue strategic innovations.
A selection of our favorite, thought-provoking conferences, blog posts, articles and social media content.
Impressions of “The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson and “Curious” by Ian Leslie.
We are interested in your feedback and opinions — comment on our blog posts, share your reactions and ideas in our Innovate Innovation Now LinkedIn Group or drop us a note. And remember we are here to assist you on your journey to …
Own the Unknown
For those of us interested in the dynamics of innovation, an interesting transformation is happening in our domain right now. The activity of opportunity pursuit is undergoing a significant transformation due to underlying forces that are affecting how organizations create strategic innovations. Companies are recognizing that they need to make bigger bets, more strategic bets, and that incremental innovation alone won’t cut it. These bigger bets come with risks, however. They are more difficult for a company to pursue because they require bigger changes in core capabilities and business models.
In response, organizations are adopting new cultures and new structures to enable these bigger, bolder but more uncomfortable bets. We’re seeing large organizations learn to adopt startup-like behaviors. But we’re seeing more than the rise of the internal entrepreneur; we’re seeing the rise of the internal entrepreneurial system.
The following are some of the trends we’re watching closely:
At no time in corporate history has there been more discussion, research and experimentation of innovation processes and practices. The innovation community is constantly expanding and developing its voice. We love the rich mix of perspectives across industries, technologies and geographies that keeps the field moving at a rapid pace.
We’ve listed some of our favorite forums for learning and connecting with the innovation community (admittedly U.S. focused).
Meetings and Conferences
Blogs and Newsletters
There are a large number of blogs and newsletters that cover innovation topics. There are several rankings of innovation blogs, including Improvides’ list of the Top 25 Most Influential Innovation Blogs & Experts and Blogrank’s Top 50 Innovation Blogs. Here are a few of our favorites:
And finally several articles have appeared over the last three months that we and others have found interesting and have commented on and shared with the Innovate Innovation Now group on LinkedIn. We’ve listed a few teasers here — we hope you’ll join the group and participate in the discussions.
The Innovators : How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
by Walter Isaacson
Read by Brian Christian
If you have not yet read Walter Isaacson’s previous book, “Steve Jobs,” I highly recommend it. It combines a fascinating subject (Jobs), a compelling storyline (the Apple birth, death and rebirth) and a journalist’s rare insight into the mechanics of how business works in Silicon Valley — and more broadly in America. I cannot make the same confident recommendation for “The Innovators.”
Isaacson’s latest work reads more like a history text, but not without a healthy dose of interesting anecdotes. There are certainly individuals who will be thrilled – probably 20thcentury American history buffs and digital industry professionals. But for students of innovation like myself, it is a bit of a slog for a few important but not new lessons more easily gained elsewhere. Admittedly, it may just be a problem of (my) heightened expectations based on his previous book.
This book is a chronological telling of the digital revolution, starting in early 19th century England with the conception of an automated calculator to the emergence of Google in the early 21st century. It tells the story of the hundreds of brilliant scientists and entrepreneurs who created each of the small and large building blocks along the way – including semiconductors, transistors, microprocessors, mainframes, personal computers, software, the Internet and search engines. Isaacson does a wonderful job of telling the inventors’ stories, their amazing triumphs and their foibles and failures. He was on a mission to highlight the real contributors, individually and collectively, not necessarily the few who got (or took) the credit. I trust that he got it right.
Isaacson has woven four principal themes into his telling of the history of the digital revolution, in approximate order of the author’s emphasis:
In summary, it’s a prodigious work and perhaps a needed chronicle of the most important scientific revolution of the last century. It’s not exactly my cup of tea but, if you are a 20th century history buff or a digital industry professional, it may very well be yours.
Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It
by Ian Leslie
Read by Steve Schwartz
Innovation is a knowledge game, and the best innovators invariably have a richer supply of knowledge than the competition. But gaining that knowledge supply may be more a matter of disposition than behavior: You need to be genuinely curious. Or at least that’s the position that journalist Ian Leslie takes in his new book, “Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It.”
The human animal, Leslie says, has evolved a “Need for Cognition,” or NFC. It’s an appetite like any other, but it’s also not distributed evenly among a population. There are “cognitive misers” who seek comfort in what is already known, and others with a high NFC who seek new experiences beyond their routine. You may ask yourself, “Which am I?” Or perhaps, “Which is my company?” and Leslie likely would give you one answer: Any group “that values order will seek to suppress curiosity.” There may be a valid reason for that, he argues: Not all curiosity is productive.
Leslie casts curiosity into two buckets: (1) Diversive Curiosity, where the aim is novelty, and (2) Epistemic Curiosity, where the aim is knowledge. It’s the latter, he says, that makes the big difference. The power of learning, and building greater knowledge, is so substantial that scientists believe we have evolved to derive pleasure from it. The evidence lies in the levels of dopamine, a reward-motivated neurotransmitter, found in the brain during learning. But why should that be so?
We’ve all heard the saying, “curiosity killed the cat,” but ironically, curiosity is more likely to reduce risk rather than introduce it. In one famous study, people were shown a series of landscape pictures and asked which they preferred. Independent of background and culture, people were universally attracted to scenes showing a source of water, such as a river, lake or a waterfall. Water is a requirement for survival, hardwired over the millennia. But even more desirable were scenes showing “a path leading off into the distance, or dense foliage with a hint of a gap through which one could pass.” Leslie concludes that having other avenues to explore (or escape to!) may be as important to our survival as water is.
So how do we hone our curiosity and use it to thrive? Leslie offers many insights, ranging from how we raise our children to how we train ourselves. In all cases, however, he underscores the value that good curiosity plays in producing its principal side effect: knowledge.
“The more we know about something,” Leslie says, “the more intense our curiosity about what we don’t know.” Perhaps for that reason curiosity has been called theknowledge emotion.
So which comes first, which is more important to cultivate — curiosity or knowledge? Leslie concludes that “curiosity may be the single best predictor of success…it incorporates intelligence, persistence, and hunger” all in one. Every organization values knowledge (especially propriety knowledge), but what about the engine that builds it? How many companies cultivate their pool of curious individuals? Without them, the incurious organization is left to make due. They must base their innovation efforts on the public, consensus knowledge of others. I wonder why anyone would want to do that?