Because of continual media hype, we live in an era of “instapreneurs.” We are led to believe that possessing a good idea allows one to easily build and flip a company in months (if not days). Successful innovation rarely works that way, and is more aligned with the quip, “He was an overnight success in ten years.” As author Scott Berkun noted, “The majority of innovations come from dedicated people in a field working hard to solve a well-defined problem…Often, hard work extends for years. It took Carlson, the inventor of the photocopier, decades of concentrated effort before Xerox released its first copying machine.” Leadership authority Warren Bennis similarly considered the protracted focus and effort required for innovation success: “Great groups are full of indefatigable people who are struggling to turn a vision into a machine and whose lawns and goldfish have died of neglect…They are so taken with the beauty and difficulty of the task that they don’t want to talk about anything else, be anywhere else, do anything else.” Stanford Professor Robert Sutton said that recognizing the ability to buckle down and work a problem into the ground may be helpful as corporations decide which innovation projects to back: “If you can’t decide which new projects or ideas to bet on based on their objective merits, pick those that will be developed by the most committed and persuasive heretics you can find.” One recalls the young computer software coders in Douglas Coupland’s book entitled Microserfs, generously sliding flat foods (pizza, Pop-Tarts, etc.) under the door of their colleague holed up in his office for days at a time. What are you so dedicated to accomplishing?
Dr. Gary Oster
School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship
Innovation, failure, ideas, invention, persistence, productivity
Coupland, D. (2004). Microserfs. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.
Bennis, W., & Biederman, P. (1997). Organizing genius. New York, NY: Addison-Wesley.
Berkun, S. (2007). The myths of innovation. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.
Sutton, R. (2002). Weird ideas that work. New York, NY: Free Press.