In Conversation with Rowan Gibson, global thought leader
Innovation – part of the DNA of an entrepreneur
LoA had the opportunity to speak with Rowan on his recent trip to South Africa. He shared his thoughts on the importance of business innovation and entrepreneurship....
We look at innovation and people scramble around for definitions – its about invention, its about creating something new, or coming up with something that creates value. We know that innovation is about ‘newness’, but the best definition I have read is “the act of introducing something new”. What is interesting about that definition is that there are two things built into that statement - firstly, it’s the newness that we associate with innovation, and secondly, the creativity that we associate with making something new or bringing new things into being. But the act of introducing something new is not necessarily an act of creativity alone, but instead a combination of innovation, courage, risk taking, and an entrepreneurial spirit. There are a lot of people in the world that are dreamers who come up with lovely ideas that never see the light of day. In fact, if I ask an audience how many people have had an entrepreneurial idea that they haven’t implemented, pretty much everyone would fall into that category. So, innovation is about bringing these two elements together – innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. When we think about great innovators, such as Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Michael Dell, Jeff Bizos, etc, if I was to say to you, if you had a choice and you could put these people into two categories, would you put them in the creativity category or the courage, risk taking and entrepreneurship category? The chances are people would say they were risk takers. Yes, the Richard Bransons and Steve Jobs of this world are creative, but ultimately, they have been risk takers in their lives, and ultimately entrepreneurial. You come to the conclusion that innovation and entrepreneurship are both necessary for success in either field. An entrepreneur without ideas is going to come up with the same old stuff as everybody else, and someone who is creative without the entrepreneurial spirit and acumen will never be able to realize their creative ideas in the marketplace.
"...the act of introducing something new is not necessarily an act of creativity alone, but instead a combination of innovation, courage, risk taking, and an entrepreneurial spirit."
Innovators are everywhere, and I think there is an innovator inside all of us and the question is how do we bring that out? How do we encourage people to express their creativity, to use their voices, to contribute, because ordinary people can contribute in a big way. We also need to help people to develop courage and risk taking ability and entrepreneurial spirit, so we can teach people to be innovators. I believe in a thing I call ‘grass roots’ innovation. There are lots of people and entrepreneurs who say “I have an idea but I need to connect with someone with the necessary resources, someone who can help to fund it, scale it, or someone who can offer me management skills” and everyone needs these things. Even Steve Jobs and his partners, whilst building the first Apple computers in his garage, needed support in the early days, such as start up capital, etc. That principle plays out all around the world. Governments shouldn’t be so focused on the idea of ‘We need to innovate so lets build a Silicon Valley equivalent because innovation is all about technology”. Actually, that is not what its about. It is about supporting and building grass roots entrepreneurship across the country. Governments should perhaps set aside a budget to seed-fund grass roots innovation and entrepreneurship, rather than trying to find a huge amount of money to pump into technologies that frankly other countries are leading the way in. In Kenya, you have Silicon Savannah which is a successful technology and innovation hub, and the reason it is so successful in many respects is that it is totally focused on mobile, rather than on laptops or other computers, because the country recognizes that not everyone has a computer, but almost everyone has a mobile phone. So the whole focus of this hub is on the development of apps for mobile technology. Therefore, countries like South Africa need to look at other innovation and entrepreneurship ideas that they can do well and where they can lead the field in their own right.
In terms of creating a genuine entrepreneurial culture in a country, I think it is about government getting out of the way and not over-regulating, thereby creating barriers for entrepreneurship to thrive. They need to create an environment where entrepreneurs and innovators can do what they do best, without barriers to entry. On the other hand, government should be there to support and play a role, not just with seed funding for small entrepreneurial enterprises to grow, but also be there to assist small businesses and innovators to connect with each other and facilitators such as venture capitalists. The question should be “how do we bring all these people together” and I think government could have a role to play in facilitating such networks in order to make things happen and to support the natural growth of an entrepreneurial and innovation culture.
"In terms of creating a genuine entrepreneurial culture in a country, I think it is about government getting out of the way and not over-regulating."
As human beings, we thrive on inspiration, we love listening to stories about other people who have succeeded – we listen and we think “if they have done that, then so can we – if they have made that work in that industry, then what can we do in our industry.” I want to impress upon everyone that innovation doesn’t have to come from the equivalent of Silicon Valley – a germ of an idea can grow from the kitchen table, the home office or the back yard. We need sources of inspiration – we need to hear that Steve Jobs created Apple in a garage, we need to know that Hewlett Packard started in a garage - and today they are massive companies. Starbucks was one little store in Seattle selling bags of coffee beans originally, they weren’t even selling cups of coffee back then, and this tiny operation today is huge and global. Many successful entrepreneurial ventures today started out as a germ of an idea at the kitchen table, and these stories are inspiring. There is nothing superhuman about these successful people, but they have all been innovators. We all have a similar capability, but we need to create the right sort of environment and give people the right tools to be innovative, to be entrepreneurial, to have courage, to be risk takers, and to ultimately succeed. This is what is required to take innovative ideas to market.
About Rowan Gibson
Rowan Gibson is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on business innovation. The media have labeled him “Mr. Innovation”, “the Innovation Grandmaster”, “the W. Edwards Deming of innovation” and “a guru among the gurus”. He is the internationally bestselling author of two major books on business strategy and innovation – Rethinking The Future (1996) and Innovation to the Core (2008) – which have been published to date in 25 languages. His latest book, Innovation to the Core (Harvard Business School Press), explains – for the first time – how to build and sustain a deep, company-wide innovation capability that drives continual growth and strategic renewal. Over the last two decades, Gibson’s international clients have included some of the world’s largest and most successful organizations. He teaches them how to seize new growth opportunities, create new markets and even transform entire industries by recalibrating their whole organizational system around the paradigm of innovation.