- If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.
— Albert Einstein (1879–1955), German-born Physicist & Philosopher, Author of Out of My Later Years
- Every time you meet somebody, you’re looking for a better and newer and bigger idea. You are open to ideas from anywhere.
–Jack Welch (b. 1935), American Business Executive & Author of Jack: Straight From The Gut and Winning
- The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.
–Mark Twain (1835–1910), American Author & Humorist, Author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- The rewards in business go to the man who does something with an idea.
–William Benton (1900–73), American Publisher, Businessman, Politician
- Try this for a week: Each morning, spring out of bed at the first hint of light and focus first on the new and wondrous things that are just waiting to reveal themselves that day. Let curiosity well up inside of you. Let your mind open up to new ideas. Forget that you already know everything.
–Donna Kinni (b. 1961), American Author
- The creative person wants to be a know-it-all. He wants to know about all kinds of things: ancient history, nineteenth-century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, flower arranging, and hog futures. Because he never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later or six months or six years down the road. But he has faith that it will happen.
–Carl Ally (1924–99), American Advertising Executive
- When it comes to organizational imagination, everyone is a point of light, inwardly afire with excellent ideas for making our companies work smarter, faster, leaner, and better. But as business leaders, we too seldom tap into our most valuable resource—the brain trust of our employees—to discover new pathways of progress and profits.
–Charles Decker (1961–2012), American Publisher
- Inventors and men of genius have almost always been regarded as fools at the beginning (and very often at the end) of their careers.
–Feodor Dostoyevsky (1821–81), Russian novelist, Author of Crime and Punishment
- Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.
–John Steinbeck (1902–68), American Novelist and author of Of Mice and Men
- Keep on the lookout for novel ideas that others have used successfully. Your idea has to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you’re working on.
–Thomas Edison (1847–1931), American Inventor
- No idea is so antiquated that it was not once modern. No idea is so modern that it will not someday be antiquated.
–Ellen Glasgow (1873–1945), American Novelist, Author of In This Our Life
- To stay ahead, you must have your next idea waiting in the wings.
–Rosabeth Moss Kanter (b. 1942), American Academic, Author of Challenge of Organizational Change
- Brainpower is now the greatest commodity we can contribute to the world. Democracy was never intended to be a breeding place for mediocrity. We must engage in the business of stimulating brainpower lest we fail in producing leaders of consequence. In a period of speed, space and hemispheric spasms we dare not treat new thoughts as if they were unwelcome relatives.
–Dean F. Berkley (1925–2009), American Academic
- If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also, you will have betrayed your community in failing to make your contribution.
–Rollo May (1909–94), American Psychologist
- New ideas come from differences. They come from having different perspectives and juxtaposing different theories.
–Nicholas Negroponte (b. 1943), Greek-American Architect
- Invention is the process by which a new idea is discovered or created. In contrast, innovation occurs when a new idea is adopted.
–Everett Rogers (1931–2004), American Sociologist
- The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.
–Linus Pauling (1901–94), American Scientist
- Ideas are a capital that bears interest only in the hands of talent.
–Antoine de Rivarol (1753–1801), French Journalist
- The power of an idea can be measured by the degree of resistance it attracts.
–David Yoho (b. 1946), American Business Consultant
- An idea is salvation by imagination.
–Frank Lloyd Wright (1869–1959), American Architect and author of The Natural House
- Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), German Poet & Statesman, Author of Maxims and Reflections
- If you can dream it, you can do it.
–Walt Disney (1901–66), American Entrepreneur & Entertainer
- There is no prosperity, trade, art, city, or great material wealth of any kind, but if you trace it home, you will find it rooted in a thought of some individual man.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82), American Philosopher and Essayist, Author of Self-Reliance
- A great idea is usually original to more than one discoverer. Great ideas come when the world needs them. Great ideas surround the world’s ignorance and press for admission.
–Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911), American Author of A Singular Life and other books
- I’d climb into the car as it went down the assembly line and introduce myself. Then I’d ask for ideas.
–John Risk, American Automotive Engineer
Innovation is Not Without Risk
One of the defining characteristics of great leaders is their knack for seeing into the future.
Innovation is not without risk. There are plenty examples of failures at companies. However, on the other side of the coin, if you’re too cautious and too late—all you have is a dinosaur business. Navigating that fine line between risk and innovation is very important.
Case in Point: ZapMail Service was a system that used fax machines at FedEx offices to transmit documents for clients in different cities. After being introduced in 1983, when FedEx was known as Federal Express, the service was soon eclipsed by the rise of fax machines priced cheaply enough that most offices could purchase their own. In addition, ZapMail was based on satellite technology, which needed the space shuttle to work effectively. However, the space shuttle blew up, dealing a body blow to FedEx’s plans. FedEx folded ZapMail in 1986, taking a costly write-off.
No Innovation Without Experimentation
Commenting about FedEx’s ability to integrating new acquisitions into its fold after its purchase of Paul Orfalea’s Kinko’s franchise, journalist Michael Copeland commented in the Autumn-2006 issue of Booz & Company’s Strategy & Leadership magazine:
As with other acquisitions, Fred Smith saw something in Flying Tigers and American Freightways that others didn’t because his point of focus lay far beyond theirs. Mr. Smith doesn’t always get it right when he looks into the future. His expensive and ultimately failed experiment in ZapMail, a dedicated fax network that couldn’t compete in the early 1980s with the new, inexpensive consumer fax machines, is proof. “A guy like Fred Smith doesn’t build a company like FedEx without taking some risks and making some mistakes,” says Mr. Hatfield, the Morgan Keegan analyst, “but clearly the successes far outweigh the failures.”
There can be no innovation without experimentation, and there can be no experimentation without the risk failure. In addition, taking risk goes against the grain of many companies’ cultures. In the corporate world, there are powerful incentives for people to play it safe. However, leaders must work particularly hard to offset these forces and give their teams the consent to fail and the assurance to make their case and go out on a limb. Leaders must not only promote experimentation, but also encourage people to terminate faster on projects that are not working without fear of reprisal. That is to repeat the cliche “fail, but fail as fast as possible” and take the lessons learned to the next experiment.
The last decade’s most remarkable business story has been the rise of Google as a dominant force in computing. Whenever a company becomes wildly successful in a brief span of time, it naturally becomes an object of fascination for corporate executives and even the general public.
Marissa Mayer, then Vice-President for Search Products and User Experience at Google, and presently CEO of Yahoo, shared nine guiding principles of innovation that have helped her succeed with Fast Company:
- Innovation, Not Instant Perfection. “The Googly thing is to launch it early on Google Labs and then iterate, learning what the market wants—and making it great. … The beauty of experimenting in this way is that you never get too far from what the market wants. The market pulls you back.
- Ideas Come from Everywhere. “We have this great internal list where people post new ideas and everyone can go on and see them.
- A License to Pursue Your Dreams. “We let engineers spend 20% of their time working on whatever they want, and we trust that they’ll build interesting things.
- Morph Projects Don’t Kill Them. “Any project that is good enough to make it to Labs probably has a kernel of something interesting in there somewhere, even if the market doesn’t respond to it. It’s our job to take the product and morph it into something that the market needs.
- Share as Much Information as You Can. “People are blown away by the information you can get on MOMA, our intranet. Because there is so much information shared across the company, employees have insight into what’s happening with the business and what’s important. … It allows us to share what we know across the whole company, and it reduces duplication.
- Users, Users, Users. “In a truly virtual business, if you’re successful, you’ll be working at something that’s so necessary people will pay for it in subscription form. Or you’ll have so many users that advertisers will pay to sponsor the site.
- Data is Apolitical. “Run a test on 1% of the audience and whichever design does best against the user-happiness metrics over a two-week period is the one we launch. … We probably have somewhere between 50 and 100 experiments running on live traffic, everything from the default number of results to underlined links to how big an arrow should be. We’re trying all those different things.
- Creativity Loves Constraints. “People think of creativity as this sort of unbridled thing, but engineers thrive on constraints. They love to think their way out of that little box: ‘We know you said it was impossible, but we’re going to do this, this, and that to get us there.’
- You’re Brilliant? We’re Hiring. “There is this amazing element to the culture of wanting to work on big problems that matter, wanting to do great things for the world, believing that we can build a successful business without compromising our standards and values.
How Google Fuels its Innovation Factory
- Innovation, not instant perfection.: Google launches early and often in small beta tests, before releasing new features widely
- Ideas come from everywhere.: Google expects everyone to innovate, even the finance team
- A license to pursue dreams.: Employees get a “free” day a week. Half of new launches come from this “20% time“
- Don’t kill projects—morph them.: There’s always a kernel of something good that can be salvaged
- Share everything you can.: Every idea, every project, every deadline—it’s all accessible to everyone on the intranet
- Worry about usage and users, not money.: Provide something simple to use and easy to love. The money will follow.
- Don’t politic, use data.: Mayer discourages the use of “I like” in meetings, pushing staffers to use metrics
- Creativity loves restraint.: Give people a vision, rules about how to get there, and deadlines
- You’re brilliant, we’re hiring.: Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin approve hires. They favor intelligence over experience
- If you want to develop your creative imagination you must open your mind to new unexplored paths, think of offbeat ways to tackle a problem, make something that is hard easier.
- Be curious about everything—the world is full of amazing wonders for you to learn about. They will become your storehouse of memories and ideas that you can use when needed.
- Look deep into the problem you face and imagine different alternatives for solving the problem. Try new paths— don’t accept the status-quo, if you fail at one task try another approach. Take everything with a grain of salt, keep an open mind.
- Try to associate with other creative people, people who discuss ideas.
- Always be on the lookout for new innovations that you can improve upon. When a new product, device or machine is invented it is already ripe for improving. Technology is always being improved. Just look at the automobile, since it was invented over a hundred years ago it has been constantly improved with thousands of new innovations added.
- This goes for any product, there is always room for improvement. Even if you come up with what seems to be a crazy way of solving a problem—write it down anyway—think about it—it may turn out to be a good idea.
- Start thinking about writing a story, think of a plot, think up characters for the story, take notes and expand the story over a period of time. Refine and change the story if you want to. Take your time, new ideas will pop out of your subconscious as you think about it. It is your creation you can do anything you want with it, use you imagination.
- Whether you are writing music or leading an army into battle keep your mind open for opportunities—new angles—different strategies—if one thing doesn’t work try another.
- Develop your interests and natural talents—follow these talents—be curious, learn as much as you can about subjects you are interested in and then improvise, develop, expand them. Follow different off beat paths. If they don’t work try another tack.
- Build upon the ideas of other people— improve and refine their ideas. It is the fundamental reason for human progress. It created the ‘Mind’ of mankind (the vast network of human minds that continually spread ideas across time and place).
On 23-Aug-1937, two electrical engineers who had recently graduated from Stanford University met to consider the idea of founding a new company. During the course of their studies at Stanford, they had developed a strong friendship and respect for each other. Bill Hewlett and David Packard put their ideas to paper, starting with a broad declaration about design and manufacture of products in the electrical engineering field. Initially, Hewlett and Packard any engineering product would be fair game to move the company forward, and expand beyond their Palo Alto garage. Therefore, they were unfocused and worked on a wide range of electronic products for industry and agriculture. Through hard work, perseverance, and forethought, Bill Hewlett and David Packard developed Hewlett Packard into an instrumentation and computing powerhouse before retiring and handing over management to a new crop of business leaders.
- “The greatest success goes to the person who is not afraid to fail in front of even the largest audience.”
- “Set out to build a company and make a contribution, not an empire, and a fortune.”
- “The best possible company management is one that combines a sense of corporate greatness and destiny, with empathy for, and fidelity to, the average employee.”
- “The biggest competitive advantage is to do the right thing at the worst time.”
- “A company that focuses solely on profits ultimately betrays both itself and society.”
- “Corporate reorganizations should be made for cultural reasons more than financial ones.”
- “A frustrated employee is a greater threat than a merely unhappy one.”
- “The job of a manager is to support his or her staff, not vice versa and that begins by being among them.”
- “The best business decisions are the most humane decisions. And, all other talents being even, the greatest managers are also the most human managers.”
- “Investing in new product development and expanding the product catalog are the most difficult things to do in hard times, and among the most important.
Source: “Beyond The Obvious: Killer Questions That Spark Game Changing Innovation” by Phil McKinney. Phil McKinney was an innovation manager at Hewlett Packard. Phil’s book has great questions for managing and leading businesses.
For Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard’s legendary management style and the history of Hewlett Packard, read ‘Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company’ by Michael S. Malone and ‘The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company’ by David Packard.