37Signals: Secrets To Amazons Success

37Signals has an article on the Signal vs. Noise blog about the Secrets To Amazons Success. Its a good read.

My favorites:

People’s side projects, the one’s they follow because they are interested, are often ones where you get the most value and innovation. Never underestimate the power of wandering where you are most interested.

Innovation can only come from the bottom. Those closest to the problem are in the best position to solve it. any organization that depends on innovation must embrace chaos. Loyalty and obedience are not your tools.

and finally

Everyone must be able to experiment, learn, and iterate. Position, obedience, and tradition should hold no power. For innovation to flourish, measurement must rule.

Check out the full article. There’s a lot there, most of which sounds like it comes straight out of lean books I have read. These three, however, are key for me. People are the greatest asset, and the things that they are passionate enough to “play” with are the key things that foster innovation. You just have to learn to trust them enough to let them play, and release some of the structure that “mature” companies think they require.

Another example of how Amazon gets it.

The Myths of Innovation and the Full Machiavelli Quote on Change

Last month I posted a quote from Nicolo Machiavelli on change that I had heard in a lecture by Carly Fiorina. I’ve recently picked up the book The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun where he includes the whole quote – which is much more interesting than the subset.

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.

— Niccolo Machiavelli

Aside from finding this gem, this book is excellent – and has provided so much mental relief for me in its reading. So many people I know talk about innovation like its a thing, rather than a series of ideas, experiments and failures that may lead to something great.

Scott describes innovation in the book like this:

The dirty little secret – the fact often denied – is that unlike the mythical epiphany, real creation is sloppy. Discovery is messy; exploration is dangerous. No one knows what he’s going to get when he is being creative.

To which he follows up with:

Creative work cannot fit neatly into plans, budgets, and schedules. Magellan, Lewis and Clark, and Captain Kirk were all sent on missions into the unknown with clear understanding that they might not return with anything, or even return at all.

This is a perfect book for managers all the way up the chain. It documents everything about the creative field that those in it know, and those who manage people in it have been conditioned to forget. If there is one book you pick up this year, pick this one up, read it, give it to your manager, and have him give it to his manager.

Gillmor Gang – User Driven Innovation

The latest Gillmor Gang podcast talks about a concept called “User Driven Innovation” using Google and other vendors who have opened up their API’s as an example of this concept. The main subject of the podcast is disruption, of which this is just a part.

User Driven Innovation is the opening of service API’s to allow users to create applications based on a conglomeration of different service providers. You might remember reading something about this in articles on this site, including the ones here and here.

I have to say, I like the term “User Driven Innovation” much better than “Application Level Reuse”. Whatever you call it, it was validating for me to hear this on the way home last night.


Yesterday I watched a video of a lecture given by Gary Hamel, author of Competing for the Future with our management team. The lecture was excellent, pointing out some of the very real problems with innovation in corporate environment.

One of the things that Gary points out in the lecture it is very hard to reinvent yourself these days because things move very fast. Additionally, as you try to introduce change, most of the time in order to justify it people look for historical data to prove that what you are attempting to do will work, which in a true situation of reinvention may not necessarily be there.

Another distinction that Gary mentions, which was also mentioned on an episode of the Killer Innovations podcast was the fact that rarely is innovation ever a truly new idea, but is normally an application of a solution from some other industry to your own to solve a new problem. I found this distinction to be a truly useful one. A really good example of this that I used in the discussion afterwards was Larry Page’s application of the academic citation principle (which I’m told by Tom the Architect essentially an application of Bayes’ theorem) to the application of search, resulting in Googles PageRank algorithm and a completely new and more reliable method of search.

It’s interesting how many times one can actually come up with ideas only to have them rejected because “we are not in that business” or “that isn’t our core competency” when it could actually be a whole new business model to help the company. Gary talked a little about these situations in the video as well.

One problem: I have no idea what the video was called. However, it was useful and I am definitely ordering his book. I’ll find out the name and post it up here within the next few days.

I’m becoming quite enamoured with the research around innovation available and how most companies just don’t understand the principles involved, or worse, are just too comfortable with where they are.

Seems to me there could be quite an industry built around consulting on this stuff …

Killer Innovations Podcast

Looking around on iTunes this morning for some business podcasts to listen to I came across the Killer Innovations podcast put on by Phil McKinney.

I’ve only listened to a couple of episodes today during the commute, but overall I’m really liking it a lot. The episodes I’ve heard have given some pretty good information on how to build an innovation culture, coming up with financial metrics for innovations, and things like that. I still have quite a ways to go to get through all the episodes, but if your looking for a good business podcast and are being asked to provide new ‘innovation’ by your boss and don’t know where to start, this is it.

Google Is At It Again

Probably one of the coolest companies around from a “pushing technology” perspective, Google has two new web sites that I am really impressed with. The first, Google Maps is a really cool competitor to Mapquest.

The second is Google Suggest. This one is way cool and makes searching a hell of a lot easier than normal.

This is one company that has their “innovation” strategy together, even having an official policy that their employees work 20% of their time on any project they choose in order to foster innovation.

Now, the trick is to figure out how to initiate a policy like this that isn’t effected by the day to day work of a “non innovation” driven company, which I would guess is the environment that most IT people work in.