I was perusing one of my favorite business blogs from Harvard University and read an article that caught my eye: “When You Can’t Innovate, Copy” written by Ndubuisi Ekekwe, founder of the non-profit African Institution of Technology.
I have to admit that the article as well as the posts were intriguing. No doubt I haven’t read all the books about business or innovation that most of those folks probably have. And I certainly never went to a big name school like Harvard. But the topic of innovation continues to be, and has been, a personal journey for me for most of my adult life.
If you’ve read this blog, you know that twenty years ago when I was just a “kid” I created the Dummies concept. And I spent nearly a year researching the market for that little fifteen dollar book I wanted to write and self-publish. But during that process I had an “a-ha!” moment when I discovered a huge unmet need in the self-help market. This added to and eventually became part of the impetus for my creating the Dummies book concept. And the core of that concept is the primary reason that it continues to be so successful more than two decades later (more than 220 million books in print, 1,600 titles in 30 countries).
The wake of the Dummies concept was also strong enough to “force” other publishers to rethink (copycat) how they presented information and finally give the lay reading public more readable, better structured, and more importantly, more understandable material on virtually any subject. And whether you like that type of book or not, it’s arguably fair to say that the Dummies concept became the nexus for that entirely new genre of entertaining and informative book (and other media).
So I wondered if that makes the Dummies concept innovative. Hell yeah according to the definitions bandied about in the HBR blog forum! Although products that aren’t high-tech per se aren’t usually spoken of with that term. Perhaps if I wrote a blog post on the HBR blog saying that the Dummies’ concept was an amalgam of many original and “stolen” ideas (more akin to Jobs’ “stealing” quip and not like the Samwer brothers’ shameless model mentioned in the the article) I’d get my name plastered in the same light as Steve Jobs…lol. (By the way, you’ve got to read about the billion dollar Samwer clone factory– unbelievable that international Intellectual Property laws allow this!)
But judging by the posts on HBR and some cursory research I just finished, it’s reasonably obvious that even for these smart people, innovation is a difficult attribute to define, create, and reproduce consistently. Some people seem to have the impression that innovation is something you pull out of the closet and wear like a tuxedo or evening gown when you want to change your business climate favorably. Others seem to suggest that innovation is an indescribable voodoo process that only a handful of people understand and can wield. Steve Jobs is at the top of that short list.
I certainly don’t mean to denigrate all the incredible work and effort that so many people have contributed on this subject. And as I mentioned earlier I am not a scholar by any means. But based on my experiences, innovation for me has become more of a quantum creation and delivery service along a constantly fluctuating continuum that encompasses far more than any business school or book today offers. Maybe this is why it remains such a paradoxical recluse within academia and the business community. I’m exploring the feasibility of a broad-scope program to turn that around now.
But in the meantime, if you’d like to see what all the fuss is about innovation, you should head over to the HBR blog and check out the article, When You Can’t Innovate, Copy.
So there you have it. It’s kinda sorta true that Harvard kinda sorta says that my Dummies concept is kinda sorta innovative…kinda sorta.
Lookout Jobs…there’s a shiny newer kinda sorta apple falling from the kinda sorta tree…kinda sorta. 🙂
UPDATE 27 May: I’ve been thinking…ya think lol? Here’s my newest definition of innovation:
“Innovation is the quantum creation and delivery process (service) moving along a constantly evolving continuum of thoughts, ideas, and concepts – including vicarious and anecdotal experiences – to be sensed and acted upon as necessary to accomplish a task or tasks (call it / them what you need it / them to be) no matter how grand or humble, even if the purpose (or if the fortuitous act) of embracing that continuum is to embody that moment or moments without the physicality of creation. Innovation also has the element of longevity and acts as a singular point of source for copycat and other derivatives.”
My own experience suggests that innovation is more like playing in the Superbowl every day with Warren Buffet, Charles Darwin, Joan of Arc, Stephen Hawking, Walter Kohn, Nostradamus, Alfred Deming, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allan Poe, Led Zeppelin. Gandhi, Mickey Mouse, Attila the Hun, Amit Goswami, and Steve Jobs…and that’s not even the entire roster.
Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it’s just one big cluster. And sometimes you just play the game no matter what the circumstances. Even the players change, change teams, or sit out from time to time. But whatever happens the game never ends.
Yeah, that’s weird…but I’m diggin’ it!
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