Can organisations make innovation happen? Or is real game-changing innovation a result of random accidents?
I tend towards the second view which is why I really enjoyed this article in The Economist about the founder of Blogger and Twitter:
Evan Williams accidentally stumbled upon three insights. First, that genuinely new ideas are, well, accidentally stumbled upon rather than sought out; second, that new ideas are by definition hard to explain to others, because words can express only what is already known; and third, that good ideas seem obvious in retrospect.
And contrasting Williams approach with Google’s (where Williams briefly worked after Google bought Blogger):
Google trumpets its innovative nature, but its genius is for attacking known problems (web search, e-mail, calendars, etc) with brute force–weapons of mass computing and mathematical algorithms. Mr Williams’s passion is solving new problems. In theory he could have done this at Google with his “20% time” on the side, but in practice he found it tedious to pitch ideas to the Google bureaucracy.
Blogger, itself, was developed by accident. Read The PayPal Wars and you see that Paypal’s meteoric growth – thanks to becoming the de facto standard on eBay – largely came about by accident.
This is why I believe that large companies are dramatically less likely to come up with genuinely great innovations compared to smaller companies. And why I feel that, whatever the calibre of individual Ariba is now promoting to its leadership ranks, we are far more likely to see something genuinely market-changing from MFG.com or Coupa than from Ariba in ’08.
Another take on innovation, this time from inside The Economist is described by Max Bleyleben in his blog. They set up a group dedicated to spending 6 months coming up with something “innovative”. The project struggled to produce innovations – but what is most interesting is that The Economist documented the struggle.