“The average founder of a high-tech startup isn’t a whiz-kid graduate, but a mature 40-year-old engineer or business type with a spouse and kids who simply got tired of working for others,” says Duke University scholar Vivek Wadhwa, who studied 549 successful technology ventures. And “according to data from the Kauffman Foundation, the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55–64 age group, with people over 55 almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between 20 and 34.”
Despite compelling evidence that we should be seeking out more experienced workers, we continue to put our eggs in the ‘younger the better’ basket. If we want an injection of innovation, it’s time we recognize that life doesn’t end at age 40.
"The best (middle managers) have a knack for turning restrictions on resources into creative solutions. It's almost magical.
For example, think of the middle manager (yourself, perhaps?) whose team, for budget reasons, was never restored to full strength after a couple of departures, and who responded by reassigning responsibilities in a creative way that made everything work better — to the point where everyone wondered why those additional people were ever needed.
Middle managers' position is also critical in that they function as the facilitators, nurturers, and selectors of creativity. They're the ones to get the creatives excited about a project, keep them on time and on budget, solve interpersonal problems, and select from the creatives' ideas. They speak up when the creatives' ideas are unrealistic or too difficult to implement. Good middle managers can also help create "collective creativity," making sure that the sum of innovative work is greater than its individual parts by establishing healthy team dynamics.
When you study companies, you see that the good project managers are widely known. There's respect for their abilities — sometimes it's grudging, but it's real respect. Everyone has a sense of how important they are."
Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter coined Kanter's Law:"Everything looks like a failure in the middle" In this article she says, "Everyone loves inspiring beginnings and happy endings; it is just the middles that involve hard work."
"All new initiatives - big new government directions, business turnarounds, new venture start-ups, new products, or internal process changes - can run into trouble before reaching fruition. Troubles increase with the number of ways the initiative differs from current approaches. The more innovation, the more problems. Problems tempt people to give up, forget it, and chase the next enticing rainbow."
This HBR article highlights Warren Buffet's perspective on innovation. "...there's a "natural progression" to how good new ideas go badly wrong. He called this progression the "three Is." First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don't and champion new ideas that create genuine value. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. Sometimes they improve on the original idea, often they tarnish it. Last come the idiots, whose avarice undermines the very innovations they are trying to exploit.
The problem, in other words, isn't with innovation itself — it's with the imitation and idiocy that follow.
Do we ignore mistakes, brushing them aside for the sake of our self-confidence? Or do we investigate the errors, seeking to learn from the snafus? The latter approach, suggests a series of studies, could make you learn faster.
"Steve Jobs was a rarity. The good news is it’s not necessary to have a larger-than-life personality to drive your innovation. Instead, an innovation organizer is a decisive leader who embeds the most important principles for innovation in the enterprise — principles that Jobs himself followed. In other words, an innovation organizer makes the entire company behave like Jobs. And when that happens, revenue from innovation skyrockets."
Bob Corlett's insight:
As in most things, don't look for a larger than life savior, instead invest in your processes.
Much of what I thought I knew about innovation was wrong and counterproductive. Berkun looks past the simplistic and superficial stories we tell ("Watson come quickly!") to reveal the hard work and process behind innovation. For example: "You can say `innovative' as many times as you want, but it won't make you an innovator....I know from my studies, if you are in the room when something that is later called an innovation is being made, the language is always much simpler. Words like problem, solution, goal, experiment and prototype--simple workman-like words--are the language you'll hear."
Leaders must be able to create innovation for themselves and with their teams. Here is one piece of the puzzle that is often overlooked but that anyone can apply immediately to improve their creative output.
"Companies heading downhill have passive cultures. Unmade decisions pile up. Opportunities are lost. No one wants to risk making a mistake. It becomes easier to sit it out than get into the game.
In contrast, in companies with high levels of innovation, people take initiative. They start new things. They don't wait to be told. They get routine work done efficiently in order to free up the time to get involved in something new."
"As humans, we want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance, with great thunderclaps and echoing ahas. Innovators and other creative types, we believe, stand apart from the crowd, wielding secrets and magical talents beyond the rest of us.
Balderdash. Epiphany has little to do with either creativity or innovation. Instead, innovation is a slow process of accretion, building small insight upon interesting fact upon tried-and-true process. Just as an oyster wraps layer upon layer of nacre atop an offending piece of sand, ultimately yielding a pearl, innovation percolates within hard work over time."
Bob Corlett's insight:
Scott Berkun's classic book on innovation is a must read for anyone trying to find new solutions to old problems.
"Why does your boss/in-law/friend/VC/editor/pundit always get it wrong?
Because they measure 'presentation.' Not just the PPT presentation, but the way an idea feels. How does it present. Is it catchy? Clever? Familiar? We measure whether or not it agrees with our worldview and our sense of the way the world is.
The problem is that hits change worldviews. Hits change our senses. Hits appeal to people other than the gatekeepers and then the word spreads.
How? Through persistence and hard work and constant revision"