When you ask why large companies have a problem building an innovation proficiency, you get back all the usual suspects: “We have silos.” “It’s nobody’s job.” “We’re afraid of failure.” “It’s unpredictable.” And what do all of these things have in common?
As I write this, I’m resting in an elegant second-floor hotel lobby overlooking the cobblestone streets of a pedestrian shopping district in Dublin, Ireland. Over the past 48 hours, I’ve delivered nine hours of speeches and workshops, conducted three podcasts and radio show interviews, and come to appreciate the remarkable advances Northern Europe has made to become a vibrant technology innovation hub.
“The next 30 years are the most important 30 years there will ever be in the history of agriculture. If we get to 2050 without cutting down our forests, without draining our rivers, lakes and aquifers, we’re good forever.”
The rules of the game used to be pretty simple for large food companies: Make massive quantities of tasty and inexpensive (if not particularly nutritious) food products, create memorable brands around them, and use their market clout to get them within arms’ reach of the everyday consumer. For my mother’s generation, the germ-free, safe, and convenient access to packaged and processed food was a boon.
In the 1830s, an artist and tinkerer, Samuel Morse, directed his curiosity to a question few had considered before. Numerous scientists and inventors across the globe were working on the problem of how to communicate across long distances more quickly.
In 1995, while working for Netscape, Brendan Eich came up with a programming language that he developed in just 10 days and today is used the world over by millions of developers. It was the era of the dotcom boom when Netscape was the best (and only) web browser around and 56K dial-up modems were the epitome of speed.
If you’re tackling a big challenge, try envisioning the simplest possible solution– and don’t let reality get in the way. In the early stages you’d likely be applying the current version of reality. The point of massive change is to change what’s possible.
Twenty years ago, long before we had children, my wife and I decided to spend Valentine’s Day weekend in Tuscany. We were living just a two-hour flight away in London at the time, so leaving on a Friday and returning on a Monday would still mean two days and three nights of rolling hills, wineries, and amazing cuisine.
That historic moment when the perfect team unifies beyond an opportunity, pregnant with possibility, is the essential scene of any great innovation legend: think Jobs and Wozniak when they created Apple, Gates and Allen with Microsoft, or Page and Brin with Google.
If people try to tell you that pivoting is the new thing, that it’s the fresh Silicon Valley approach to business designed for today’s fast-paced digital world, don’t believe them.