By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy
Marc Andreessen, the Silicon Valley tribal elder Wired Magazine labeled as “The Man Who Makes the Future” [http://goo.gl/pq1fFY] recently told PBS/media shaman Charlie Rose that:
…the fundamental output of a technology company is innovation. That is very different from a lot of businesses. The fundamental output of a car company is cars. The fundamental output of a bank is loans. The fundamental output of a tech company is innovations.
I take exception with the second part of Andreessen’s hypothesis – that mortal/muggle [i.e., non-wizard/non-tech/non-Silicon Valley] companies are solely and primarily in the quotidian business of making and selling products and services. I can’t help but bristle at Andreessen’s Silicon Valley exceptionalism [i.e., the value destroying conception that the only ideas that matter come the sun-kissed minds living in/or around Palo Alto]. Furthermore, I would like to expand on the first part of the Man-who-makes-the-Future’s premise and explore the hypothesis that the fundamental output from any enterprise is innovation.
Carl Bass, the CEO at Autodesk begins his discussion of “The New Rules of Innovation” [http://goo.gl/Xx49k] telling audiences that one of his favorite films of all times is “The Princess Bride.” In that film a character insists on describing everything bad that might happen as being “Inconceivable.” The film’s much-more realistic protagonist - after hearing him say “Inconceivable” over and over and over again finally turns to him and says “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Bass believes the same thing can be said about innovation. Everyone keeps using the word but I do not think it means what they think it means.
Innovation is not a synonym for invention or novelty. Innovation is the conversion of ideas into cash. Invention/discovery/research on the other hand is the conversion of cash into ideas. EVERY organization innovates [i.e., has a mechanism whereby ideas are converted to cash or in the case of public sector entities – mission value].
Miranda Fricker, a philosopher at Birkbeck, University of London has coined a useful phrase: “testimonial injustice.” Testimonial injustice involves a listener not taking the statements of a speaker as seriously as they deserve to be taken. Ms Fricker uses the example of a female executive making a comment which is ignored when she makes it but applauded when it emerges from the mouth of a male colleague. Another example is when members of a jury are more skeptical of the testimony of persons of color than of a white witness. This is sexism and racism and is appropriately abhorred by society.
I believe that as it regards the topic of innovation, those of us living in the real-world [i.e., outside of the reality distortion field which is Silicon Valley] suffer testimonial injustice.
Call it Valley-ism, if you like. This is an issue of social identity. Do WE perceive ourselves as being entrepreneurial? Do we trust our capacity to convert ideas into cash? I would like to return innovation back into the hands of the rest of us. I believe innovation is not something only people in Silicon Valley do. I believe innovation can be accomplished without the assistance of “cool” boutique consultancies chanting the koans of a sacred valley.
Leonard Schlesinger, the twelfth president of Babson College, widely recognized as the world’s leading educational institution for entrepreneurship agrees with me. Entrepreneurship is for everyone. In his new book Just Start: Take action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future [Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012] he shows us the path forward.