And, more often than not, they don't have a single patent or PhD to their name.
In a recent New Yorker article and NPR interview, Malcolm Gladwell talks about what he calls the Creation Myth: that an innovator may not be the guy who comes up with the idea but the guy who turns that idea into something people can use.
He goes on to say that you don't want to be first with new technology or ideas and offers Apple as proof of that. You know; he's right. Not only was Apple not first to market with any of its products, but the later it enters, the more successful its products seem to be.
After all, MP3 players, smartphones, and tablets had all been around for ages before Apple introduced the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
Indeed, in How Small Changes Can Produce Big Breakthroughs, we discussed how ...
- Innovation isn't a "supernatural event - a preordained occurrence that only happens to certain people."
- Great innovators "... don't go from zero-to-great in a heartbeat. More often than not, they stand on the shoulders of giants, see things a little bit differently, or benefit from timing, opportunity, or luck."
- Not to diminish Einstein's genius in any way, but the notion of matter and energy being related in some way had been around for some time. What was missing was the role of light, and Einstein, for whatever reason, was fascinated with light. He's famous for deriving E=MC2, but special relativity is more about Einstein's thought experiments and unique perspective than anything else.
- As for Jobs's expertise, he's certainly more of a marketer than a technologist. In his seminal book Marketing High Technology, former Intel marketing and sales chief Bill Davidow says, "Marketing must invent complete products and drive them to commanding positions in defensible market segments." That's what Jobs does with every product he launches.
- Innovation isn't all about science or high technology, either. YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are all innovative platforms but I'm not aware of there being any particular technological breakthroughs.
- Clearly, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has been the coffee industry's big innovator of the past 20 years, but it's not as if he invented the coffee bean or anything. And nobody's going to tell me that McDonald's makes the best burgers, Subway makes the tastiest subs, or SuperCuts gives killer haircuts, but their businesses are all innovative.
And when you've got an idea for something, anything, and some moron says, "all the good ideas are taken," or "everything that can be invented has been invented," just make the sign of the "loser" on your forehead and remember that some innovative guy came up with that, too.
Also check out:
- The 7 Habits of Highly Innovative People
- 10 Ways to Think Different - Inside Apple's Cult-Like Culture
- 10 Secrets of Trader Joe's Success
Image courtesy Joseph Enterprises, home of the world famous Chia Pet