“Being negative is not how we make progress.” – Google’s Larry Page, Google I/O Conference, 5/15/13
Yesterday, Facebook friend Dave Morin (brainy CEO of Path), posted a quote from Larry Page’s May 15th Google I/O 2013 presentation. Larry Page’s quote: “Being negative is not how we make progress.”
No disrespect to Larry Page (he’s a smart guy), but that’s myth disproved by mountains of scientific research. Being negative can actually be healthy (both personally and professionally) and propel progress. Martin Seligman’s University of Pennsylvania research found that optimism can prevent people from seeing reality with necessary clarity and foster complacency. A University of Waterloo study found that negative thinking can improve your finances. University of Chicago research found that negative feedback inspired experienced professionals to strive harder than positive feedback. A European study of 40,000 people found that being overly optimistic was associated with a higher risk of disability and death.
Illustrious innovator and inventor Thomas Edison agreed.
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” – Thomas Edison
“Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.” – Thomas Edison
Does being negative kill progress? No. A healthy dose of pessimism can motivate you go out there and make it happen. Other biz “taboos” with surprising benefits: renegade thinking, rewarding failure, creative destruction, team competition, productive friction, and collaboration with competitors.
No hard feelings, Larry Page. Your dad was a computer science professor at MSU and I’m a loyal Spartan.
The biggest hurdle to innovation? Implementation. While you may or may not agree, it’s one of RE:INVENTION’s core beliefs. We’ve even been contemplating licensing or building an enterprise management platform to track innovation implementation and performance metrics. While discussing the potential platform with a fellow CONNECT San Diego Entrepreneur in Residence, we were surprised to hear him scoff at the idea. “Innovation doesn’t need a metrics/management platform,” he said. “Innovation is about idea generation. It happens in a room, between people. Innovation isn’t something you can manage.”
INNOVATION DOING VS. INNOVATION THINKING
Innovation consultants typically focus on the FUZZY FRONT END OF INNOVATION (“idea generation and innovation thinking“). Wrangling ideas can admittedly be tough, yet companies like Spigit and Brightidea have created software to assist with ideation projects. Empirically, however, most companies fail at the BACK END OF INNOVATION (“bringing ideas to life, the execution/implementation of ideas, also known as commercialization“). The world is littered with great ideas, poorly executed. People, process, and project management are all part of implementation.
Research points to the challenges of execution/commercialization: 70% of CEOs who fail do so not because of bad strategy, but because of bad execution.¹ For every seven new product ideas, only 1.5 are launched, and only 1 succeeds.² Companies that have a history of converting innovation into ACTUAL GROWTH outperform the market by an average of 78 basis points a month.³
At RE:INVENTION, we believe that innovation creates sustainable value. No value creation, no innovation. And ideas have to be executed well to generate value.
Qualcomm is great at chips R&D and licensing – they’ve stumbled with execution when they’ve attempted to bring consumer ventures to market (FLO-TV™, Skifta™, next up Digital Health). Biotech companies struggle with commercialization as well – perpetual research then they get gobbled up like San Diego’s Life Technologies because they under-perform when it comes to bringing their research-driven ideas to market. Sony Reader, Microsoft Surface, and some might argue the Chevy Volt — innovative technologies that fizzled because of flawed execution.
What drives science (and technology innovation) does not drive business. In the majority of cases, the market for a new scientific advancement or truly innovative product doesn’t exist at the outset and you have to create it. No matter how good the idea, if you can’t build the market, construct an ecosystem, and win customers, your innovation will fail. Companies with weak commercialization capabilities inevitably also have faulty fuzzy front-end innovation processes — their commercialization capability blindspots prevent them from seeing problems they will encounter while executing their “cool ideas.” Glaring vision gaps can be fatal.
Does this mean that Qualcomm or biotech companies should walk away from bringing new products to market? No. Heck no. Any company has the potential to improve its commercialization capabilities. Companies also have the potential to lose their go-to-market edge. Samsung’s recent success is propelled by great execution. Apple’s reputation for execution has been faltering post-Jobs.
THE HEADLINE HERE: when companies understand how to adapt, evolve and commercialize products rather than merely invent them – they survive and thrive.
Alas, there is no single path to success when it comes to commercialization. There are many ways to go from the incubator, lab, or storyboard to the store. What works for some companies may not work for all. But there are basic fundamentals that can increase the likelihood of commercialization success. Community building, collaboration, communication — as well as concept validation, critical path analysis, capital financing, concept protection, channel management, competitive pricing, and continuous improvement — are ALL part of commercialization and implementation. Great ideas and innovations are not enough – you have to get them to market. In fact, that’s why we created RE:INVENTION’s 12 C’s of Commercialization Guide. Rather than advancing a rigid process or methodology, RE:INVENTION’s 12 C’s inject planning and discipline via a flexible/adaptive framework. The 12 C’s do not need to be sequential. Companies may emphasize some C’s more than others based on their industry and current challenges.
So what do you think? Do you agree? What’s the biggest hurdle to innovation? Do you think an enterprise management platform that tracks innovation performance metrics can improve implementation?
Earlier today, Groupon fired CEO Andrew Mason. Mason posted his exit letter publicly, noting that it would eventually be leaked to the press anyway.
Mason’s letter begins:
Valentine’s Day is the annual occasion that lovers look forward to and cynics lament. The former segment relishes the formal opportunity to express their feelings for the objects of their affection, while the latter opines that it’s merely a fake holiday created by greeting card companies, chocolatiers and other related industries for their own benefit. “People shouldn’t need a special day to be romantic,” they insist, forgetting that they’re never romantic on any other day either.
But does anyone believe that those who genuinely look forward to and celebrate Valentine’s Day are cold-hearted clods the other 364 days of the year? And is there such a thing as a cynic who is ever happy or satisfied?
Similar rules apply in business. Take, for example, the tale of a group of investment bankers being disappointed with receiving low six-figure bonus checks. It simply doesn’t get more cynical than that. But perhaps the cynicism is justified, given the grueling hours and personal sacrifices required to carve out a career on Wall Street? Clearly these bonuses have become the equivalent of a Valentine card from an otherwise inattentive partner: a token gesture given out of a sense of duty, after which it’s back to an unfulfilling relationship.
Super Bowl 2013 has come and gone. If you consider the long history of football, the game hasn’t changed much. But American football HAS proved innovative — in terms of end zone technology, player equipment, and individual player performance. Advertisers also have an opportunity to be innovative with the Super Bowl, a television event when tens of millions of viewers are conditioned to actually watch and discuss the commercials. Of course, that opportunity is priced accordingly, so the pressure’s on any company willing to pony up $4 million for a 30-second spot.
What’s the best game plan, then, for those companies that can and choose to invest in Super Bowl advertising? Play it safe with the tried and true, or be innovative like Apple was with its legendary “1984″ ad during Super Bowl XVIII? Is it possible to do both?
Innovation is about creating sustainable value, which Apple certainly has enjoyed since 1984 (despite their best efforts to tear it all down with the following year’s “Lemmings” Super Bowl spot). But as we’ve seen with Budweiser, innovation doesn’t have to be different or edgy; tugging at viewers’ heartstrings has once again paid dividends for the beer maker, as their most recent Clydesdales ad is topping many “favorite commercial” lists in the wake of Super Bowl XLVII. But will it sell more beer?
Welcome to RE:INVENTION’s Mnestic Monday. Each Monday we honor business history and heritage, paying homage to yesterday’s inventions, inventors, innovators, and their media stories. Respect for the past helps us shape our future. Heritage leads to innovation stewardship, business reinvention, even future business growth.
mnestic (adj.) pertaining to memory, from Gk. mnestis “remembrance,” related to mnesis “memory.” Alas, mnestic isn’t a valid Scrabble Word. Darn.
This Day in History:
On September 17, 1918, inventor Elmer Ambrose Sperry received a patent (U.S. Patent 1,279,471) for the gyrocompass, an invention that was essential to modern navigation technology. Sperry had originally filed for the patent in 1914 (makes one thankful for the America Invents Act’s “fast track for fat cats” patent examination process, doesn’t it?).
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