Tag Archives: CEO

Steve Jobs is Dead – Whither innovation at Apple?

Steve Jobs lost his battle against pancreatic cancer. Surely this is a huge loss for his family and friends, for the fans and employees of Apple, and for the business world as a whole because he was one of its most prominent icons. To all of you, I’m sorry for your loss.

But is it the end of innovation at Apple?

Is Apple incapable of innovating without Steve Jobs?

Can you have sustainable innovation without a CEO who sees himself as the Chief Innovation Officer?

Is innovation the purview of the lone inventor, or does it take a village to innovate?

For those of you who know me, or have heard me speak or read my book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire or my other writings here on the site, you can probably guess which side of the fence I stand on.

Personally, I don’t buy the lone innovator myth and instead think my Nine Innovation Roles is a better way to look at things. Look at the labs of Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Edison decades ago, or the impact of private and hookah clubs or coffee shops and universities throughout time. Instead I think that organizations need to be looking at the innovation that has come from the interconnectedness of our economies and make sure that their organizations are as interconnected as they need to be to maximize their own innovation capacity. Has your organization built a global sensing network? Should it?

If you were to ask me to describe Steve Jobs from the outside in, I would describe him as a great entrepreneur, not a great innovator. There is a subtle distinction there. Innovators create value, entrepreneurs help people access and translate that value into their life. Entrepreneurs are also really good at helping innovators commercialize things and turn inventions into innovations. Steve Jobs was really good at driving his deep team of talented innovators towards innovative solutions. He was a great innovation leader, but not necessarily a great innovator. In that way it seems like he might have been very much like Thomas Edison, which if he is to be remembered in a comparative sense, is not a bad way at all to be remembered.

Here is a rare Steve Jobs narrated version of the iconic Think Different ad done as a tribute by jeremytai:

Again from the outside looking in, Apple started as a very entrepreneurial company when it was led by an entrepreneur, but lost its way when Steve Jobs was forced out by the executive mindset, only to buy NeXT to get a modern OS to rescue the company (and get Steve Jobs back in the bargain – but also its entrepreneurial mindset). Every organization must continuously look to balance the tension between the entrepreneurial mindset and the executive mindset. Which begs the question:

Should an organization be led by an executive or an entrepreneur?

I have two more final points I want to examine before I go to bed. The first is that I found myself thinking while I was sitting there eating dinner in a coffee shop in New York City when I heard the news that Steve Jobs had died I thought to myself:

  • Is the death of Steve Jobs, my generation’s or avocation’s JFK moment?
  • Will people forever remember where they were when they heard that Steve Jobs died?
  • Have people ever felt that about a business leader before?

And second, in talking with one of my co-founders, Julie Anixter, the question was sparked about whether you can have sustainable innovation without someone fanatical in charge of innovation that isn’t afraid to tell people that their solution sucks and send them back to the drawing board, pushing them towards greatness instead of feeling the need to praise and accept the merely good. This has been the popular outside in perspective on Steve Jobs’ approach to innovation. Is this what it takes? What do you think?

Now, I’ve posed a lot of questions in this piece because death presents more questions than it answers, and I’ll leave you with one or two more.

Am I completely off base here? Will Apple fall into complete disrepair again now that Steve Jobs is gone, again?

Sound off in the comments.

I hope to see you next week at the Business Innovation Conference 2011 or the following week at the Back End of Innovation conference – October 17-19, 2011 in sunny San Diego.

You might also enjoy Renee Blodgett’s post here.

If you’ve read this far down, here are a couple of bonus items:

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Interview with Retired President X

Interview with Retired President XI had lunch in 2009 with the recently-retired president of a multi-billion dollar company and had a great conversation about innovation, leadership, and culture. The insights are still relevant and he enjoys his private life so I won’t be naming any names, but I will share some of the key insights and advice for innovators that came out of the conversation.

  1. Don’t be afraid to pay people well. When people aren’t busy worrying about money, they can focus on how to get more money into the business instead of trying to figure out how to get more money out of the business for themselves. Removing money from the equation also increases the chances that employees will bring their best ideas to the business instead of leaving to create a startup based on them.
  2. If you are an innovator and want to develop your idea within the company you are working for (whether it is an incremental innovation or a radical innovation), try to take it to someone who can say yes. There are far too many people in organizations that are trained to say no, and far too few who are equipped to say yes. Unfortunately, most organizations reinforce the importance of saying no, without empowering enough managers to say yes.
  3. Run as flat an organization as possible is crucial to innovation. Flatter organizations have fewer people in the middle to say no, and flatter organizations require managers to push more decisions to the edges of the organization. Pushing decisions to the edge of an organization tends to result in better decisions. The farther removed you are from all of the factors in decisions, the less successful you will be in making them correctly.
  4. Echoing former Halliburton CEO John Gibson’s thoughts – people brought in to help re-make the organization will ultimately be defeated by the processes and culture of the organization. Organizational change must occur from within and will generally occur quite slowly.
  5. Big ideas should be separated from the main organization into a new organization funded by the board of directors and reporting directly to them. They should also be staffed with employees from outside the main organization as well (except maybe Finance to enable consistent reporting). When you try and keep these potential radical innovations within the main organization, inevitably conflicts of interest will emerge between funding the idea and funding other transitory short-term leadership priorities.
  6. Upper management doesn’t generally know the best ways to effectively improve individual components of the organization. One approach to maximizing incremental innovation and improvement possibilities is to give the employees (not management) of a factory, a business unit, etc. a pile of money to use to improve the organization. You will be surprised how quickly employees can self-organize to determine the best uses for the money, how good they will be in selecting the best improvements to fund, and how fast stories about such an effort will spread to other parts of the organization.
  7. When people have an idea, they often just jump in and start developing the idea (even those ideas that others have had before), often reinventing the wheel and repeating many of the mistakes of those who have gone before them. To reduce waste and to accelerate success, consider having people submit a short research paper on the area of innovation they plan to pursue (to show that they have researched those that have gone before them). At the same time, somehow we have to find a better way of capturing the learnings from failed efforts for those undertaking new projects to learn from.

Finally, President X expressed that he would encourage anyone about to rise to the top job to take a break before assuming the top job to refresh, reflect, and to bring renewed energy and insights into the job. Whether or not you are in the top job or several levels down, I think there are some interesting insights to ponder here.

What do you think?

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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