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How to keep creative geniuses in check and in profit
March 10, 2019 | Financial Times | by Andrew Hill.

The story of how Eastman Kodak invented a digital camera in 1975 but failed to develop it is one of the most notorious misses in the annals of innovation. (It’s more complicated than that, but never mind.)

Polaroid, the instant-photo pioneer, took a slower path to the technology: its first digital camera appeared only in 1996. It filed for bankruptcy in 2001, 11 years before Kodak.
Polaroid’s founding genius, Edwin Land, could, though, have been first to the digital party. In 1971, as part of a secret panel advising the US president, he advocated digital photography, which the US eventually adopted for its spy satellites.
But Land was blind to the promise of digital cameras for the consumer.

This tale of failures of leadership, innovation and organisation is well told by Safi Bahcall, a physicist, former consultant and biotech entrepreneur, in Loonshots. There are four types of failure:
(1) Leadership failure. Edwin Land was guilty of leading his company into a common trap: only ideas approved by an all-powerful leader advance until at last a costly mis-step trips up the whole company.
(2) Innovation failure. Bahcall distinguishes between product-type and strategy-type innovation.
(3) Organizational failure. Loonshots is based, refreshingly, on the idea culture does not necessarily eat strategy for breakfast. In fact, bad structure eats culture. Bahcall gives this a scientific foundation, explaining that successful teams and companies stagnate in the same way water turns to ice. A perfectly balanced innovative company must try to keep the temperature at the point where free-flowing bright ideas are not suddenly frozen by bureaucracy. How? Since the success of Bell Labs, companies have been told they should set up “a department of loonshots run by loons, free to explore the bizarre” separately from the parent. The key, though, is to ensure chief executives and their managers encourage the transfer of ideas between the mad creatives in the lab and the people in the field, and (the culture part) ensure both groups feel equally loved.

As for the assumption companies always ossify as they get larger, that risk can be mitigated by adjusting incentives, curbing office politics, and matching skills to projects, for which Loonshots offers a detailed formula.

Success also requires a special type of leader — not a visionary innovator but a “careful gardener”, who nurtures the existing franchise and the new projects. Though not himself an inventor, Steve Jobs, in his second phase at Apple, arguably achieved the right balance. He also spotted the S-type potential of iTunes. Even if Tesla’s Elon Musk is not losing that balance, in his headlong, top-down pursuit of loonshot after loonshot, he does not strike me as a born gardener.

Persuading charismatic geniuses to give up their role as leaders of organisations built on their inventions is hard. Typically, such people figure out themselves how to garden, as Jobs did; or they are coached by the board, which may install veteran executives to help; or they may be handed the title of “chief innovator” or “chief scientist” and nudged aside for a new CEO.

(4) They may find themselves peddling a fatally flawed product.
books  breakthroughs  business_models  creativity  digital_cameras  Edwin_Land  Elon_Musk  failure  genius  howto  incentives  innovation  inventors  Kodak  leaders  moonshots  office_politics  organizational_failure  Polaroid  Steve_Jobs 
10 days ago by jerryking

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