How’s YOUR Innovation Mojo? Points to Ponder.

April 17th, 2017

Innovation has been in the spotlight recently.  Again.   But not in the usual celebratory, award-winning sort of way.  Rather, it was failure to innovate that was getting attention.

In the case of Apple, it was a failure to innovate to the degree we’ve come to expect.  When Laptop Mag released its 2017 brand rankings, Apple had fallen out of first place for the first time since 2010.  And fallen hard – to fifth place.


This ignited a flurry of press, and several points to ponder when it comes to innovation.  Just a few are pondered here.


Point 1:  Innovation – Nature or Nurture?


Apple has been synonymous with innovation for decades.  It is easy to suppose that Steve Jobs infused the organization with innovation genes that self-replicated breakthrough after new product breakthrough.


One feature immediately on the heels of the Laptop Mag review was NPR All Tech Considered asking: “Has Apple Lost its Innovation Mojo?’

In this piece, former Apple employees reflected on a culture shift they had observed.  Under Jobs, the culture was one in which every employee was “encouraged to take personal responsibility for improving the products”.  It seemed to change after Jobs died in 2011.


Point 2:  LAZY to the point of stagnation?


An article related to innovation, but unrelated to Apple appeared in CNN Money, coincidentally the same week as the Laptop Mag brand review.  In the article, Americans Have Become Lazy and it’s Hurting the Economy, economist Tyler Cowen is credited with the assessment that Americans have become lazy.  We aren’t innovating as much as we have in the past; we aren’t starting businesses on pace with earlier generations.


Apple is not named in this article, but technology is, and it’s one of the culprits of our laziness, according to Cowen.  “Innovation is painful.  That’s why we don’t do more of it,” states Cowen.


I’m not arguing about the pain of innovation.  In this article, Cowen raises great points about developments and forces driving us to retreat and relax in the comfort of our homes.  But, could it be more than laziness?


Point 3:  The Retreat from Innovation: Fueled by Laziness or Fear?


Organizational consultant and author, Margaret Wheatley, in her book Finding Our Way: Leadership For Uncertain Times, laments that fear is stagnating the progress, creativity and innovation organizations should be capable of generating.


Written in a post 9/11 world, the book opens with reflection on how the pendulum seems to have swung since the late ‘90’s.  From a leadership spirit promoting empowerment, collaboration, risk-taking, creativity and exploration, organizations seem to have retreated to an “old” leadership and management style characterized by conformity, command, control, and coercion.


Within the introduction, Wheatley relates, “ever since uncertainty became our insistent twenty-first-century companion, leadership strategies have taken a great leap backward to the familiar territory of command and control.”


Again, this was written post 9/11.  But, pre-recession.  Have we retreated even further since the recession from leadership paradigms that encourage creativity, diversity, exploration and all the other “risky” elements of innovation?


So Many BIG Questions Around Innovation, but just a few here…


How does it manifest itself: through Nature or Nurture?   Is innovation in America slowing?   Looking at the applicants for Shark Tank alone, one would assume not.  But if it is…what is hindering innovation?


Are we lacking vision?  Are we lacking courageous leadership?  Does fear of failure have a grip on us all?


Have we gotten too greedy as stockholders: do our dividend demands strip R&D budgets?


I’m not qualified to pass judgment, but the recent spotlight on Apple by way of 5th ranked MacBook seems to leave some shadows where culture and leadership were not-so-long-ago exceptional.


If, as Tyler Cowen suggests, Americans have become less innovative, NPR’s question applies not only to Apple, but to all of us:  Are we as a nation losing our innovation mojo?  How is your organization faring with innovation?



One Comment

  1. Mike Murray says:

    Yes, fear can be a huge inhibitor of innovation, especially for people in established organizations. I was just at an “innovation summit” related to animal health, at which one panel group talked about “right to fail” and espoused the necessity to fail in order to learn. True enough, but no one talked about what is at the root of our fear of failure. Just talking about learning from failure is not an antidote to the core reason that people are afraid to fail. I say that because I have discussed learning from failure while training others about innovation mindset and processes, and whereas there is general agreement in principle, in practice people’s self-protective instincts often inhibit their willingness to learn from failure. It’s completely normal.
    I believe that this is largely attributable to our perception of “success” and “failure” as reflections of our self-worth, and often the parameters that define success or failure are determined by others. We fear failure because we fear the possibility that we do not have intrinsic worth or value. And it is a valid fear, because companies have been sending that message to their employees for the past 2-3 decades with massive layoffs, cessation of pension plans, “off-shoring” jobs, or “on-shoring” less expensive talent.
    Confronting and understanding the source of our fears, as well as our motivation and sense of purpose, can help us take on the innovation mindset and embrace those moments of courage, or even fearlessness, when we commit to trying something imperfect and welcoming critical feedback (or even deafening silence!).