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The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun

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Frustration + innovation = entrepreneurship?

The last 30 years has seen an amazing wave of innovation at the intersection of technology and entrepreneurship. [80] Companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, HP, and Yahoo! started as small groups who dismissed the well-worn path of convincing others and chose instead to realize ideas on their own. These start-up ventures were born at the frustration of failing to make innovation happen in larger, established businesses. Had the founders of these companies found positive responses from corporations, history might be different. Frustration with people in power is a perennial complaint among creative minds: Michelangelo and da Vinci were infuriated by their employers' limited ambitions and their peers' conservative natures in the same way creative people are today. [81]

Innovators rarely find support within mainstream organizations, and the same stubbornness that drives them to work on problems others ignore gives them the strength necessary to work alone. This explains the natural bond between breakthrough thinkers and new companies; innovative entrepreneurs not only have the passion for new ideas, but they also have the conviction to make sacrifices that scare established companies.

The risks for an individual focusing 100% of his resources on a crazy idea are small: it's one life. But for an organization of 500 or 10,000 people, the risks of betting large on a new idea are high. Even if the idea pays off, the organization will be forced to change, causing fears and negative emotions to surface from everyone invested in the success of the previous big idea. Of course, some corporations are so large that they can take great risks: they can lose $20 million on an experiment and survive. But these efforts fail so often that it's possible that having less to lose works against innovation, compared to scrappy bootstrapped efforts led by people with everything at stake.

But as rosy as it sounds, the entrepreneur, whether she's wealthy or happy living on ramen noodles, [82] must eventually convince one group of people—customers—of the merit of her ideas. And if she doesn't have enough money to support her new ideas, or her family refuses to eat canned chili for the third straight month, she'll need to convince a second group—investors. As far as we know, both groups are human beings (though some debate the DNA of venture capitalists) and have the same emotional responses listed above.



[80] This power combo has been a phenomenon since the early days of the Industrial Revolution, when the first steam engines, factories, and mining systems were pioneered by entrepreneurial technologists, free by modern governments to build businesses on their own. See Arnold Pacey, The Maze of Ingenuity (MIT Press, 1992).

[81] However, the major difference between the 15th century and the present day is opportunity. Back then, if you had an idea for cathedral design or siege weapons (hot technologies of the day), you were dependent on the one organization that could afford your services: the Church. But software programmers in the late 20th century and beyond not only have many patrons, they have the means to build their dreams themselves.

[82] For a trifecta of innovation, see Tadashi Katoh and Akira Imai, Project X -Nissin Cup Noodle (Digital Manga Publishing, 2006). It's a graphical novel history of how instant ramen noodles were invented, and how the office staple of noodles in a cup came to be.

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