Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Origins of Innovators

There’s a better way to do it – find it.

Thomas Edison (1847-1931)

February 28, 2012 - As one who tries to direct traffic at the intersection of culture, politics, technology, and health reform, the origins, attitudes, and discoveries of innovators in our society fascinate me.

Innovators may be individual entrepreneurs, members of the academic establishment, or participants in corporate teams. All are full of ideas, in pursuit of ideas, risk takers, and society makers and shakers.

In my experience, most ideas originate with individuals with a dream of what could and should be. These individuals tend to be well-educated but do not necessary have degrees. The titans of the information age – Bill Gates of Microsoft, Steve Jobs of Apple, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook -are college dropouts. Edison do not even go to college. Entrepreneurs are not always to the manor born. Andy Grove, the CEO of Intel who made Intel one of heavily capitalized companies in the word, is a Hungarian refugee who came to this country at age 20 without a college education and rose to the heights of the corporate pinnacle and helped make Silicon Valley what it is today – the Venture Capital center of the world.

Nitin Nohira, Dean of the Harvard Business School, just sent out an 11 page pamphlet to Harvard Business school graduates and graduates of its affiliated programs. I was on his mailing list because I happen to be graduate of an 8 week program on Health Systems Management at Harvard. The Dean writes those with advanced degrees ought to focus on how to advance society through Innovation, Intellectual Ambition, Internationalization, Inclusion, and Integration, Towards those ends, he has assembled teams of student innovators to develop and refine products, generate and analyze data for target markets, sell to those markets, and generate revenue.

Jon Gerber, author of The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, writes in the February 26 week end section of the New York Times , that corporate commitment to innovation often makes the difference in advancing society. As evidence, he cites 30 Bell Lab discoveries over the last 87 years, including the first fax service, the first digital computer, the first transistor, the first laser, and the first communication satellites.

Tweet: Innovation occurs because of a combination of individual imagination, educational preparation, and corporate enterprise – not one or the other.

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