Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
After 25 Years Studying Innovation, Here Is What I Have Learned (linkedin.com)
142 points by NaOH 59 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

> The word innovation has become a buzzword routinely used to describe things that are new, shiny, feature-rich, and, in some cases, breakthrough.

Word-inflation is real.

Here at Purdue, a new building on campus is called the Innovation Design Center[0], which I find insultingly presumptuous.

Next thing you know Panda Express will call itself gourmet dining. Oh wait, they already do[1].

What I find interesting is the company uses that word in graphics but I never see it on official, indexed text on their site. It's like they're trying to fly under the radar with subliminally audacious advertising by minimizing the paper-trail.

But maybe that's overly paranoid, because it looks like they also have an Innovation Kitchen[2].

Is there a term for words that only really make sense retrospectively or maybe should be prefixed by "trying to" in the present tense?

Someone ~trying to be~ an innovator/ entrepreneur.

[0] https://www.purdue.edu/bidc/ [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panda_Express#/media/File:Pand... [2] https://www.pandaexpress.com/innovationkitchen

Frankly, I've become very wary of "real" innovation, the kind of "disruptive" innovation that the VCs chase after. All too often, that kind of innovation involves my data being winkled out of me and sold to the highest bidder. It involves some schlub working for minimum wage with no benefits and no job security. It involves a diverse and competitive industry being obliterated by one or two dot-com behemoths. It involves one thing becoming more efficient, at the expense of thousands of lives becoming less autonomous.

Innovation has always had externalities and unexpected downsides, but never in my lifetime has it felt so overtly predatory. It seems like the robber barons of the 19th century have returned, only this time they wear branded hoodies and give TED talks. One of those robber barons literally argues that monopolies are good for society.

That word is wantrepreneur. IIRC Mark Cuban used it and I've heard it before because there are a lot of Gold Rush types who flock to Silicon Valley who talk a lot but don't walk-the-walk of hack or hustle very much. I like to see that people are serious: coding or working all night, after their day job, quit to work with a coworker, or deploying a new feature while at airport layover between flights.. not just BSing at a bar or coffeeshop about their great "idea" they haven't tried to make or sell in the real world. The world doesn't need anymore "idea guys/gals," it needs more people trying things and being unreasonably motivated and unsatisfied with the world as-is... and comfortable with discomfort to keep learning from mistakes.

It, and most bizword mission statements, boil down to honesty of effort and self-description labels. And I'm not a "hacker" and I'm not an "entrepreneur," because those are too bold and too easy to claim without widely-known genuine, unforgeable signals.

>But maybe that's overly paranoid, because it looks like they also have an Innovation Kitchen[2].

our BigCo has Innovation everything and everywhere. Recently we were trained on the process of creating and managing innovation - looks like a bastard chimeric child of Agile/Scrum and Six Sigma (no innovation here though :). And it seems like our marketing&sales is on verge of starting to sell pure innovation to customers who are already primed up by the current high-tech innovation hype-mania.

You are putting the word “innovation” on a pedestal. There is no clearly defined threshold above which a new application of a product, process, or idea must pass before it can be called “innovative”, and how innovative something is depends strongly on context. What seems like a triviality to one person might well be an innovation to someone else.

There are many places and contexts where people are doing incredibly stupid or inefficient things, and the application of simple centuries-old or apparently obvious ideas might well qualify as “innovation”.

For example, consistently using paper checklists in a hospital has a huge impact. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/12/10/the-checklist

Excellent Article! The "Genius" of "Simplicity" exemplified.

> Is there a term for words that only really make sense retrospectively or maybe should be prefixed by "trying to" in the present tense?

“Aspirational” comes to mind


Bloviation perhaps.

It's kind of crazy to me that people are discounting his ideas simply because he mentioned that he believes in God. I've read his books and had a chance to meet him. He's brilliant (and that's despite the fact that he recently had a stroke and at the time had difficulty concentrating). Read any of his books... He was able to come up with really simple models that explain some pretty complex competitive outcomes that had perplexed a lot of people for decades.

> But God is different. Because he has an infinite mind, he does not need to aggregate above the level of an individual. As I thought about this, I realized that the way God would measure my life is different than how we measure each other’s. Instead of aggregating all my accomplishments, comparing them with the accomplishments of my friends and colleagues, and then giving me a grade, he would simply want to know how I helped other people. It will not be about my degrees, books, or awards, but about the lives I was able to assist along the way.

This author sounds like a deeply confused person.

If the concept of God offends you, replace it with "truth" or with "any entity / program / algorithm that can accurately measure the contributions I make".

When we acclaim someone we're praising them because of their contributions. Because our minds are finite, we use heuristics / proxies to measure those contributions. And those heuristics can be arbitrarily poor.

To put it in words you might like better, I think what he's saying here is that if he were going to write an algorithm that measures his success, he would have it measure how much he helped each person. Because the supercomputer running the algorithm is better at details than we are, it could bypass the often-misleading heuristics / proxies and measure his contributions directly.

When we're looking at our own lives, we have more detail available than when we look at others lives. So why not try to skip the proxies and optimize on the core concept?

Eh, I think focusing on helping others over prestige and external acclaim is a healthy way to approach the world, no matter how you come to that conclusion.

This is such a vague argument it's basically meaningless. Prestige for what? Helping who, in what way?

And yes, it is important how you come to conclusions. Being right for the wrong reason means your still wrong, and it will catch up with you eventually.

I disagree. Read their words carefully and it appears they never gave up the old mentality. They just changed how they define achievement.

I’m not saying not to help others - just that I think their mentality is still a reflection of the desire to achieve

I think that is the point. Moving ones personal definition of achievement from superficial to meaningful. There is a innate desire to do something useful(achieve); and you can't get rid of that. What you can do is decide what you focus your desire and actions towards.

I grew up Mormon, and Clayton Christensen was always regarded as one of the examples of "look, Mormon doing things in the real world!" next to Steve Young, Mitt Romney, the Osmonds, and others.

As a Mormon my view was that god comes before self. God, really, comes before everything. I think that is still the case with most Mormons.

Why would you say that?

Even as someone who is not religious I think he makes quite an interesting argument for the metric used by many to measure success.

Seriously? Read it again. His argument is: Your profession would be meaningless to an all-powerful god.

Your profession IS meaningless to an all-powerful good.

Maybe you are the one who us confused. Why would a being powerful enough to create the heavens and earth give one shit about your job?

And? It's a great argument; I'd hate to live in a world where my value to an all-powerful god was based on how much revenue I brought to a company by increasing ad-clicks.

To argue any other perspective would be repulsive.

Maybe instead of claiming someone is deeply confused, make an actual point.

Why? I think it's a beautiful thing to try and focus on helping other people.

I love helping people. I love it more than achieving technical accomplishments. I love it because I can do things that cost me very little, but which provide the other person quite a lot of value. It's like magically introducing new value into the world, and creates/strengthens a bond and relationship with another person. And having that friendship makes me happy.

I don't do it because a mythical all-powerful (but personified) creature, who I have never had contact with will judge me more favorably. That kind of thinking is just insane.

He is approaching this from the standpoint of someone who, presumably, _has_ had contact with that being, God, and who views Him as his literal spiritual father.

From that standpoint it is easier to understand what he is saying. Just as with my father (sleeping downstairs), he taught me to help other people and to be kind to others. I saw him doing it and realized how happy it made him, it made me want to be like him, so over the years I tried hard. I failed a lot, but over time I became a kinder, more thoughtful, more intelligent person.

The more kind I am, the more I serve, the more I understand _why_ it is so wonderful to help other people and why it is worth it whether it costs me little or whether I have to sacrifice a lot.

I view God in a similar light; I know he is more intelligent than I am, he knows things I don't, I can sense what kind of a being he is and I want to be more like _that_. I don't understand all the reasons, but I sense that he loves his children, just as my father downstairs loves me and my siblings. I trust that what God wants for me is right even when I would feel like I would rather do something else, so I persevere and I learn how wonderful it is and I remind myself of how much I want to be better. God is an example, both of what to do, and how wonderful it is to do it. That works not only in serving others, but in the details of how to do it and some nuances that I probably wouldn't come up with on my own.

I care about what God cares about because I love him. Presumably that is the same for Clayton Christensen.

Hopefully that helps explain the thinking a bit better.

I'm an atheist and my default reaction to any talk of knowing what God wants normally makes me bristle. I also believe that intentions matter and in this case they are good.

Here's a wonderful short piece by Andy Weir (who wrote The Martian) that I am in love with and resonates with the very bit that you disliked. It's worth 2 minutes of your time:


Thank you for saving me my time.

For 25+ years, he got a lot of fame and fortune from some sophomoric, simplistic observations.

His thinking is so simplistic that he fails to see how simplistic it is.

Then on "confused", well, he is simplistic and, in particular, concludes that the world is as simplistic as his observations, concludes that the universe and God are nearly that simplistic, so is willing to believe his stuff about God.

E.g., his description of the roles of data are absurdly simplistic. Look, Clayton guy, you have not even started even to scratch the surface of the nature, role, power, value, importance of data.

Also Clayton, your view of innovation is too simplistic and fails to cover all the more important cases of innovation funded since 1940 by the US DoD, NSF, NIH, NASA, DoE, and more and the work of, say, Viterbi at QUALCOMM, and the rest of the STEM fields.

Clayton Christensen divines God’s methodology. Most of his other points were also cliche-ridden. Something is wrong here.

> cliche-ridden

hmmm. have you read his book "The Innovator’s Dilemma" ? I was shocked that it's already 25 years old. I think it maybe be the seminal book on disruptive innovation. Low-end disruption, new-market disruption, "job to be done" AFAIK - those are all Christensen.

If there's cliches there - I suspect they came about in the shadow of his body of work over the years.

I see a number of people reacting negatively to the 'God' section. I also had an issue with it. Let me explain why I found it odd: He spends most of the article asserting his points by tying them to real examples or at least ones that resemble common events we all see. He then launches into moralizing with God as his touchstone "But God is different. Because he has an infinite mind". No, I don't think he was talking about Eisenstein's God or some other abstraction. I don't disagree with his broader points about how you should measure your worth, but he could have made them in a much more effective way by just asking the reader to imagine the outcome of a life lived for only yourself.

I somehow had no problem with the usage of God and found it pretty effective, infact, maybe the other alternative you suggest seem a little obscure.

In my experience when people claim to be innovating, it tends to follow the 90% rule - i.e. 90% of it is crap.

haha. There's a name for that. "Innovation theater". Happens in many large companies.

He doesn't really explain here (IMHO) the nub of his "disruption": if people want an easier, cheaper product, why don't great firms just make it?

A. Because their present customers, around which the entire business is optimized, don't want them (they want faster/better, not easier/cheaper). And finding and serving those other customers is a completely different ballgame. Really, a different business.

i.e. his point wasn't really about great new products, but why didn't existing businesses do them.

BTW It isn't very predictive; he predicted iphones wouldn't amount to much.

Christensen's Harvard colleague Rebecca Henderson has done some research how the organizational structure of big companies gets in the way and prevents them from re-organizing around innovations. Tim Harford has an interesting article on the subject: http://timharford.com/2018/10/why-big-companies-squander-bri...

I feel these explanations are always post facto. "Oh they didn't react, it was so obvious, those silly dinosaurs!"

Well a hundred World Changing Mega Hyper Super Switchy Disrupt-o-Trends come along every month. Nobody knows which of them will pan out. Asking a giant company with a stable, reliable way of turning money into more money to drop everything at every rustle in the leaves is not reasonable.

an academic talking about innovation, that's my favourite kind of people. He probably never invented something. Its like someone talks about architecture but never build a house. He has now skin in the game.

ah, doing "consulting" does not count. Why? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rp6_3UQLi2Y

Isn't it great to help people?


If you'd read it, he was using the term as a metaphor, not literally.

He was not. He also mentioned earlier in the article about how he has a difficult time balancing time between his job, his family, and his church.

I suspect there's some projection going on

Good you got more than 50% of the article

tl;dr: Oxytocin > Dopamine.

I think I know what you're getting at; I'd like to read a much better comment than this one explaining what you see as the core truth of what the author is saying.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact