Are you foolish enough to innovate?

markgreville.ie
5 min read
fairly easy
"Stay hungry, stay foolish" — Steve Jobs How can you make a great breakthrough? How can you start the next era-defining business, write the next great song, create the next political mo…
"Stay hungry, stay foolish" — Steve Jobs

How can you make a great breakthrough? How can you start the next era-defining business, write the next great song, create the next political movement? To do any of these, you must be more innovative. So where do you start?

Legendary Finnish architect Eero Saarinen sat one morning staring at a broken grapefruit peel, the remains of his breakfast. He was in the middle of an enormous project, designing a new airport for one of the world's great cities — New York. Staring at the fruit peel, a vision suddenly grabbed him. He would design the airport shaped like a split grapefruit peel. One of the most groundbreaking pieces of architecture — the TWA terminal at JFK airport — was the result.

By Roland Arhelger — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46423333

So, how did Saarinen do it? He took on an idea that would have seemed ludicrous to most — something outside the ordinary. How do we follow Saarinen's lead?

In the seminal book 'A Primer on Decision Making' — Stanford Professor James G. March tells us that there are the three ingredients in a company needed for innovation: slack, luck and foolishness.

Slack is the difference between the outcome chosen, and the best possible outcome (say a successful product sold 1 million, but could have sold 10 million with a different decision). In an organisation, more slack means more innovation. How do you know if there is slack in your company? If you continually exceed targets, you are in the right place. Beware, slack can change. When performance in an organisation exceeds aspirations, slack accumulates, and when performance decreases, slack decreases.

Luck is necessary for successful innovation. Luck can come in many guises, the right timing, a breakthrough in a related industry, new staff creating the 'right' chemistry in a team. Because innovations which provide breakthroughs are difficult to identify in advance — a very promising idea can…
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