If you have ever attended an innovation conference, you will be familiar with consultants’ graphs that show how, say, the second half of the 21st century will belong to African millennials relentlessly networking via wearable mobile devices. But what has struck me recently is not so much the extraordinary potential of the future, but the extent to which innovators draw on ingredients from the present and the past.
Joanna Shields, chair of Tech City UK © Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
When the first dotcom bubble burst, one theory that did the rounds in New York, where I was working, was that such a scarring experience would deter a whole generation of 20-somethings from ever becoming entrepreneurs.
But Joanna Shields, the UK’s ambassador for digital industries, puts a different spin on the aftermath of the dotcom bust. The US – and specifically Silicon Valley – profited from the experience of failure, she says, while innovation and entrepreneurialism in the UK took a hit from which the country is only now recovering. Read more
Karl Lagerfeld (Getty Images)
I have spent more than a third of my professional career living and working abroad, so you would expect me to lap up research that suggests foreign experience increases creativity. But as companies find it ever more expensive to send managers on expatriate assignments – and rightly choose to hire and train skilled executives locally – they will have to look to other methods to encourage innovative thinking. Read more
Codejam-filled Doughnut – GCHQ head office in Cheltenham (Crown Copyright)
GCHQ – the UK government electronic eavesdropping agency – could be the most innovative employer in Britain. But short of a management-obsessed successor to Edward Snowden daring to leak its org charts, it would normally be hard for anyone to find out.
Its press officers will not reveal their last names, its automated welcome message warns that calls “may be recorded for lawful purposes” (immediately reminding callers of the grey area between lawful and unlawful phone-tapping), and it will say only that it employs roughly 5,000 staff. GCHQ is, however, said to be building a happier workplace for those staff. In fact, its innovative change programme has won a prize. Read more
While waiting in a big Manhattan hospital about 15 years ago, I glimpsed the chairman of one of the world’s biggest banks in a consulting room. I never found out why he was there. If he was ill, his employer never said and the man is now enjoying a long and apparently healthy retirement.
The Innovator’s Dilemma was published in 1997, so when The New Yorker last week printed a detailed dissection of disruptive innovation, the idea at the heart of Clayton Christensen’s book, my first reaction was: what took critics so long?
Clayton Christensen (Peter Foley/Bloomberg)
Clay Christensen is a gentle man, of devout Mormon faith, prone to sentimentality and beloved by many – not least for his lessons to students on how to find fulfilment, which he turned into an unexpected bestseller, How Will You Measure Your Life?
But the avuncular Harvard Business School star is hot under the collar about this week’s New Yorker attack on the book (The Innovator’s Dilemma) and theory (disruptive innovation) for which he is best known.
What seems to have made him particularly angry is the fact that the author, Jill Lepore, who is also a Harvard academic, did not drop by to chat to him about her detailed allegations that his theory does not stand up. Read more
I met Carey Eaton only once, at a conference five weeks ago in Switzerland, far from Kenya, where he grew up, lived and built a thriving internet business. He was engaging, upbeat and generous with his time and knowledge.
Clayton Christensen: straight talking on complex ideas about innovation Photo: Bloomberg
And still they come. The stream of articles, books and research purporting to tell people how to innovate is unending. But is there anything new in innovation?
A lot of what is sold as new thinking is actually “people applying their own language to something that isn’t really different from what has been applied before”. That is the view of Scott Anthony, a Singapore-based partner at Innosight, the consultancy co-founded by Clayton Christensen – an acknowledged master of using straightforward language to help business people understand complex ideas on innovation. Read more
We have been presented this week with two visions for the future of innovation in the pharmaceuticals industry. One is encouraging, the other is not.
You would be quite happy to allow someone else to open the boot of your car and drop off your groceries while you are absent. You would trust random strangers to deliver your new shoes on their way past your home. You would gladly accept a prescription-drug order from an unidentified flying object hovering outside your door. All to avoid going the extra mile to pick up cheap goods ordered online in person.
Bitcoin is being forced to grow up fast. The arrest last week on money laundering charges of Charlie Shrem, a leading Bitcoin champion, coincided with a regulatory hearing in New York to consider what on earth it is – a virtual currency, speculative asset or a means of exchange?
Tom Perkins, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, made a terrible mistake by comparing criticism of rich Americans – the “1 per cent” – to the Kristallnacht attack on Jews in Germany in 1938. Mr Perkins, co-founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, has since apologised.
Thousands of chief executives, politicians, leaders of non-governmental organisations and media folk are once again assembled in Davos for their annual debates on how to improve the world. It is a worthy affair, with “stakeholders” discussing how best to combine business with societal good, like an ersatz global parliament.
Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snapchat (AP)
Few technology companies are hotter than Snapchat, the photo sharing app founded just under three years ago that turned down a $3bn bid from Facebook. An article about the company in Forbes calls it “the greatest existential threat yet to the Facebook juggernaut”, highlighting that “droves” of teens (the median age of a Snapchat user is 18) are turning to the social network founded almost three years ago that allows users to send videos, pictures, text or drawings that disappear after a set period of time.
But one unexpected detail in the piece stuck out for me. When twentysomething co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy first met Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder tried to dig for information on their plans. He also outlined his own plans for Poke, Facebook’s own app for sharing photos and making them disappear. According to Mr Spiegel: “‘It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you’.” Here’s the surprising detail: the Snapchat founders then bought a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for each of their six employees.
In choosing that particular military-treatise-cum-strategy-guide, Spiegel and Murphy punctured two myths about tech entrepreneurs. Read more