Sunday, August 28, 2011

Risk-Taking, Innovation, and Steve Jobs

The sun has not yet risen, the power has not failed, and we are awaiting Hurricane Irene, which is to hit landfall in our part of the Northeast sometime today. Hurricane Irene and emergency preparedness have been the center of attention with mass transit shutdowns in Philadelphia, NYC, New Jersey, and Boston, and thousands of flights cancelled and even airports closed as the hurricane barrels up the northeast corridor. Manhattan was eerily quiet yesterday as my uncle, who is in his 90s, related to us, after his walk to Lincoln Center and back to his apartment.

During this period of preparing for Hurricane Irene, and, unlike when the tornadoes hit Massachusetts on Jun 1, 2011, there was sufficient warning, the announcement was made, in case you missed it, that Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Inc. had stepped down, but had asked to remain on the Apple board as its chairman. He had been fighting pancreatic cancer for two years and had had a liver transplant and the best wishes and accolades streamed from around the globe from leaders, executives, and consumers of Apple's products from the iPod to the iPhone and iPad. Jobs' attention to detail and sense of aesthetics are legendary. He is also the holder of 313 patents according to The New York Times.

Jobs is the consummate innovator and innovation is an elusive talent and quality that has generated much interest in both industry and academia and is essential for economic growth and prosperity. In fact, presently, we at the Isenberg School, are looking to fill a chaired faculty position as the Isenberg Professor, who is to focus on innovation. Innovation has even attracted the attention of nations and, according to John Kao, an innovation expert, and as reported in The Times, the raw materials for innovation, which other nations may be surpassing the US in, include:
  • government financing for scientific research,
  • national policies to support emerging industries,
  • educational achievement, engineers and scientists graduated, and
  • even the speeds of Internet broadband service.
What the US does have, however, and what other countries may lack, and which is essential for a climate for innovation, Mr. Kao notes, is a social environment that encourages diversity, experimentation, risk-taking, and combining skills from many fields into products that he calls “recombinant mash-ups,” like the iPhone, which redefined the smartphone category.

To learn how to become a great innovator, we need look no further than Steve Jobs and, as academics have pointed out: the five traits that are common to the disruptive innovators or what makes up The Innovator's DNA: questioning, experimenting, observing, associating, and networking to search for new ideas. Ceaseless curiosity and willingness to take risks make up their genetic code.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for showing us how it should be done -- even after your firing from Apple, you rose to lead the company to new heights.