Innovation Blog

Innovators: Don’t Listen to Innovation Professors!

By Shlomo Maital 


Professor of Innovation

In their latest Bloomberg Business Week innovation blog, Michael Maddock and Raphael Vitón caution against an alarming trend:  the wrong people are making millions on teaching innovation – the professors.  And I are one!

   Here is their argument. Professors teach innovative risk-taking while themselves picking a safe, popular topic (innovation).  Professors teach a highly pragmatic life-based experience-based evidence-based subject, without themselves having done it first hand. (“If you can, do; if you can’t, teach!”, said Shaw).  Professors teach organizations how to create an innovation template, a button-down bureaucratic system that can kill innovation like warfarin kills rats.  Companies (especially large ones) are already risk-averse; professors of innovation tend to strengthen that tendency, rather than battle it. 

  “We …. coach people to accommodate, even encourage, the fast-failures and messiness that ironically make great ideas happen most efficiently,”  the authors say.   Fail early to succeed faster, goes the IDEO principle.  Professors of innovation do not teach organizations to welcome failure.   

   “So, instead of writing a six-figure check to go over a decade-old case study with a professor, who of course did not put his house on the line to back a big idea he had (like teaching innovation), what specifically should large companies learn from entrepreneurs?”        The authors have three suggestions:  a) get to ‘beta’ quickly. Experiment constantly. Recall Edison’s principle, that 10,000 failures were not failures but preparation for success in the 10,001th  try. b) grab ideas from anywhere and everywhere.  Professorial innovation processes tend to focus on internal idea generation. c) acknowledge, if you are elephantine, that mice are more agile, and acquire one. Buy a startup, give it room, air to breath, freedom to fail, and then turn it loose, and harvest its ideas. 

 Personally:  I taught innovation for four decades, before actually plunging in to involvement with a startup.  I’ve now been connected with two of them.  It’s a great relief. I no longer feel like a fraud, when teaching students about how to generate ideas and launch them as businesses.