Tag Archives: Knowledge Creation

There is a way to create a market of early adopters

change by kevindooley

Oregon must create a market of early adopters
[Via Climate Solutions]

One reason we created the New Energy Cities program at Climate Solutions was to elevate the conversation and focus on a small number of city and utility partnerships that are serious about the degree of innovation needed to create a clean, efficient energy system at the local level.


Early adopters are a small portion of any community – the ones most in tune with new ideas and processes. The majority of people do not want new ideas or processes – they just want to continue using what they have because they know that these will work.

These doers really only change, only adopt innovative processes, when either of two things happen: 1) the people they know all change; or, 2) a thought leader they respect tells them to.

These thought leaders often act as mediators between the doers and the early adopters, two populations that often do not communicate well. The early adopters are always coming up with new things that just distract the doers.

Most communities do not have enough of these mediators and do not effectively leverage those they do have. People seldom get kudos for acting to facilitate change like this.

To create a community of change, one needs to identify and leverage these thought leaders who can effectively mediate between the early adopters and the doers. The more efficient this can be done, the more rapidly the entire community can adapt to change.

Wikileaks and Apple – why does Apple not leak anymore?

steve jobs by Collin Allen

Wikileaks: traditional liberalism with balls?
[Via Boing Boing]

The mainstream media likes to suggest, with a nudge and a wink and abuse of the word “cyber,” that Wikileaks represents a radical ideological position. But if there’s a moral crusade to be found, maybe it’s rooted in a tradition closer to home: classical Western liberal-democratic principles.

In The New Republic, Noam Scheiber takes for granted that Wikileaks is here to stay, with relentless pressure on big business and big government that permanently hampers their ability to prevent leaks. This will result in smaller, more humane organizations.

I have no idea what size organization is optimal for preventing leaks, but, presumably, it should be small enough to avoid wide-scale alienation, which clearly excludes big bureaucracies. Ideally, you’d want to stay small enough to preserve a sense of community, so that people’s ties to one another and the leadership act as a powerful check against leaking.

To make this point, Scheiber reminds us that Wikileaks’ stated aim–making organizations operate more ethically–is a mainstream one: “It’s easier for honest CEOs to run an honest business, if the dishonest businesses are more affected negatively by leaks than honest businesses,” he quotes Julian Assange.

Scheiber’s argument seems to be that Wikileaks’ disclosures could have more subtle and far-reaching effects on organizations than it expects.


Apple demonstrates today the sort of company Scheiber discusses. Maybe it is because Jobs hates leaks.

Scheiber’s article is one that should be read by everyone. It is a very important one in its implications. Wikileaks, and the ideas behind it, may alter how businesses work and adapt. It touches on some of the ideas of David Brin in The Transparent Society – the same technologies that permit the powerful to spy on us can, and should, be used to spy on the powerful.

Scheiber postulates, and I agree, that the inability of large companies to stem leaks may result in the greater proliferation of corporate ‘cells – it is easier to control the flow in smaller groups without stemming the tide totally. Inefficiencies in small groups can be overcome when needed. In larger groups, it can be deadly.

Luckily, we also have the ability today for smaller organizations to leverage the abilities of others to succeed. The small biotech company I was VP, Research at had perhaps 3 of us who were working in the lab. But we did not need more because we could have other companies do the sequencing for us – no need for a core facility with tens of people. We could have other companies synthesize DNA for us – no need for a core facility with tens of people. We were able to accomplish great work with a company with 10-20 fold fewer people than it would have taken just 10 years earlier.

So, there will be business pressures to become smaller and more adaptive as well as information pressures.

That is why I think Apple is the first of its kind – a truly large company that has somehow maintained the abilty for small company adaptability. It acts small, has research abilities that are far beyond the modest number of people it has doing R&D. It is able to run rings consistently around other companies. It is one of the largest companies by capital value on the planet yet it acts like a startup.

I don’t know all the details of why but we all know that Jobs is the reason. But I think part of the way this new sort of company came about was because of Jobs’ reaction to leaks.

Apple used to leak like a sieve with whole websites devoted to writing about them. Jobs pretty much stopped that, so much so that a lost iPhone became a cause celebré.

One would have expected this sort of iron control on information leaks would have harmed Apple. Most organizations respond to by clamping down on information flow but, and this is especially true of large ones, this is like giving themselves a lobotomy. Information flow slows, making it very hard to make good decisions and adapt properly to changing conditions.

That is what Assange claims he wants to do with Wikileaks – cause the old dinosaurs to react in ways that result in their own downfall.

Well, Apple shut down leaks and actually became a better and stronger company. I’d love to know the details but I expect that Jobs actually implemented some of what Scheiber discusses. Break the groups down into more manageable units and use pressures to make leaking a violation of social mores.

Of course, this is a two way street and these same social mores can push back on the company to be more ethical, etc. Even the smallest group is open to leaks when some feel the company is acting unethically. It all becomes a system of controls and feedbacks that does not harm the information flow needed to adapt.

I believe that when it is all said and done, we will discover that the same things that ended most of Apple’s leaks also led to a large amount of their success. That somehow Jobs’ response actually did not stifle creativity but enhanced it.

If we can replicate this elsewhere, then things like Wikileaks would not need to be feared by most organizations. In fact, Wikileaks would become irrelevant for the vast majority of us.

Five important things to remember in science

blackjack by banspy

Avoid the career virus!
[Via Naturally Selected]

When we come down with flu, we do everything we can to get rid of the virus and get better. But when we come down with mind viruses—or ideas that harm us rather than help us—we often just accept them as “how things are,” doing nothing to counter their damaging effects.

There’s one mind virus, particularly acute these days, we should all pay attention to:

Science is a real struggle. It is a dog eat dog endeavor, and if you aren’t hyper competitive, super smart, and working 80 hours a week, you won’t succeed.

This mind virus was highlighted by the recent case of the postdoc poisoning his colleague’s cell cultures, because he was afraid she might be getting ahead. Not only was the act itself borne of this mind virus, but so were many of the comments following it. “That’s just the way it is in science these days,” was a common refrain in the blogosphere.


Such ultracompetitiveness often does more harm in science than good. Pushing yourself may help sometimes but viewing everything as a zero-sum game where the only way to move yourself forward is to harm others is not a long-term successful strategy.

Because science is a small world and it gets around when you abuse others. Your brilliance may be enough to overcome the distaste of others but you can find yourself quite alone when you need help the most.

Here are the 5 things Morgan suggests that can help:

  1. Learn to live “in the moment” and enjoy every moment. If you’re in the moment, then you’ll realize that you have great power to make things happen. Some people refer to this as “mindfulness.” It works.
  2. Don’t focus on what success others are having, or what you haven’t achieved yet. Focus only on your own success and what you want to achieve.
  3. Help other people rather than being afraid of them. The more you help others, the more it will come back to help you. his doesn’t mean giving away your results to a competitor—but it does mean helping a lab-mate or a colleague whenever you have the chance.
  4. Get enough sleep. Many of us academics think that the only way to get ahead is to spend long hours working, while depriving ourselves of sleep. That’s like driving your car without enough engine oil. You can get away with it for a while, but eventually the engine blows out.
  5. Realize that the only thing you can control in your life is what’s in front you, here and now. You can’t control the competition. You can’t control whether your experiments will have the outcome you want. Make the most of what you can control, by doing the right work at the right time—and ignore the rest.

Not only will your life improve, but very likely you will be more productive and a lot happier. Work towards win-win and things will be much better. There can be more than one blackjack at the table.

The conversation I moderated

On September 14, I moderated a discussion between Ash Awad, Vice President of Energy & Facility Services at McKinstry; and Daniel Friedman, Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington.

The topic was A Conversation About Sustainable Design and the Seattle Channel videotaped it. It was a fantastic evening and I had a wonderful time sitting between two great speakers.

The right mix in a social network is more important than anything else for driving innovation

innovative by Stig Nygaard

Is Narcissism Good for Business?
[Via ScienceNOW]

Narcissists, new experiments show, are great at convincing others that their ideas are creative even though they’re just average. Still, groups with a handful of narcissists come up with better ideas than those with none, suggesting that self-love contributes to real-world success.


The narcissists – a term I think may be misused here – are more likely to draw from the disrupter or mediator side of a network. They deviate from the normal flow of things in a network.

I hate the term ‘innovators’ applied to the earliest adopters in a network. Anyone can be innovative. WHat we are looking for here are those that most rapidly adopt changes and then are the most able to convince the community to adopt them

These experiments showed that a passionate pitcher could get people to adopt their idea, even when the idea was rated average by reading about it. The personal interactions were needed to pitch even an average idea.

But what was really interesting in the work was that teams of only disruptors (called narcissists) or only doers (no narcissists) were very poor at coming up with great ideas and innovations.

There are 5 steps everyone goes through when presented with a new idea and when deciding whether to adopt it. A key one is evaluation. I would suspect that teams with only disruptors race through this step so fast – that is why they are the earliest to change – that they really do not arrive at much that is worthwhile. Every idea seems as good as any other.

On the other hand, doers usually get stuck at the evaluation stage, only slowly taking the leap to adoption.the slowness to adopt change. So a team of doers would not get much done because they could never decide, getting stuck at evaluation.

But a well mixed team, one with both disruptors and doers, was the best one. This makes absolute sense. Because the doers slowed down the disruptors, forcing them to explain and rationalize all those novel ideas. The doers are also forced to make a decision because of the pressure from the disruptors.

By mixing both types, the ideas get much better evaluation, making it more likely that the best ideas will be adopted by the group. Each type overcomes the blind spots of the other – preventing the disruptors from moving too many ideas too rapidly through evaluation, while forcing the doers to pick the best ideas to adopt.

I can hardly wait for this paper to come out. It demonstrates that the best communities has the right mix of traits and that a community that is overbalanced in any one sector will be very slow to create and adopt innovative ideas.

Dealing with failure successfully

failure by jurvetson

What Google Could Learn From Pixar
[Via Daring Fireball]

Peter Sims:

Despite an unbroken string of 11 blockbuster films, Catmull regularly says, “Success hides problems.” It’s an insight Google should acknowledge and act on.


One thing the article mentions is that Pixar is always working to find solutions to problems. I wrote about this before, where I sketched out some of the technical problems each Pixar movie was designed to solve.

As Pixar says, “Success hides problems.” The complementary idea, that “Failure reveals problems”, is one very few organizations want to examine. At many companies, failure leads to loss of employment. The organizations seem to believe that as long as someone never fails, then they must be better than others. Fear of failure prevents innovation. This leads to a maladaptive company, one that is not resilient enough to deal with failure when it inevitably happens, because the hidden problems do eventually pierce the bubble of complacency.

In a complex world, failure often tell you more than success. I use the game I learned in Junior High School called Bulls and Creots as an example. Here, outright failure to get anything right actually gives you more knowledge than any other single guess.

Similarly, with some very complex systems, the only way to get to clarity is to make something fail, to make it work wrong. In biological systems, some of the most insightful work has come from disabling a part of the system and seeing what happens. So, for example, in a metabolic pathway with a large number of enzymes, looking at a single enzyme tells us little about the process, since in many cases we do not know what the enzyme really does.

But disable the enzyme and what will happen? If it is a critical part of the pathway, then none of the final product will be produced. Instead, a large amount of an intermediary product will build up – the intermediary product that the disabled enzyme was supposed to work with but can’t. So, like throwing a wrench in an assembly line backs up everything behind the wrench, a disabled enzyme results in a backup of intermediary product. Study that product and you will know what the enzyme does. Do this for each enzyme in the pathway and you can then delineated what happens at each step as you add material at the beginning of the pathway.

This and other approaches yielded understanding like this, which shows the complex intermediary metabolic pathways in cells. Pretty complicated but it was only revealed through things like designed failure.

intermediary metabolism

Failure and the continuing drive to solve problems is how you keep innovation fresh and creative. Pixar gets that. Companies that do not will discover that Failure does eventually reveal problems in even successful companies and if they do not deal with that failure in a productive way, the organization could go down in flames.

And this is quite likely simply because the company has no experience with failure and will lack the resilience to deal with that Failure in a successful fashion.

Apple’s iTunes Remote app and one guy

[Crossposted at A Man with a PhD]

Apple’s iTunes Remote app was developed by one person – report
[Via AppleInsider]

Apple’s iTunes Remote application for the iPhone has not been updated in over 8 months because the software was written by just one person, and he is currently busy with other projects, according to a new report which describes Apple as “a huge startup.”


Here is how he describes the way Apple runs things:

Apple doesn’t build large teams to work on every product they make. Instead, they hire very few, but very intelligent people who can work on different projects and move around as needed.

One day you might be working on the Remote app, and the next day you might get pulled on to another project that needs your help.

The engineers on the Mac OS and iOS teams move back and forth between the two projects based on release cycles and what needs to ship next.

That is how we worked at Immunex – whatever was on fire got the bucket brigade approach. we all worked on multiple projects at the same time, allowing us to drop something that was going slow and pick up on something that needed more attention.Once we had gotten our role done, we handed it off to the next member of the bucket brigade and picked up another project.

In order to make this work well, there needs to be constant vetting of the progression by everyone involved. Any bumps in the road can be smoothed over if more eyes are on the prize.

Thus everyone feels a part of a successful project, even if they had a little part. Immunex’s great drug was Enbrel. I had a very small part working on that molecule quire early. While only peripheral to the amazing work done by others, I felt every bit as proud of its success.

Plus this approach keeps smart people interested and helps prevent empire building, which can be a real detriment to the rapid actions a small team needs to make.

Any company basing its success on the creativity of its employees needs to have a management style closer to Apple’s or Immunex’s.

Its late and I’m rambling about Scienceblogs

I continue to have some discussions in comments of my Scienceblogs post that results in a treatise on my part. Greg Laden is the most recent victim of my verbosity – he has a great blog.

And, as with the previous reply to David Croty, I’ve decided to put it up as a post. Mainly because I wrote so much that it deserves more recognition with its own title, for instance. Plus it is very late and I do not feel like cutting it all down. I hope it looks okay in the morning.

So I make it a post. But it covers some more of my thoughts about the community that has been forming at Scienceblogs and where it will go from here.

First, Greg’s comment:

Just to expand on the point a little: For the most part, Scienceblogs has been explicitly non-communal. It is a network, there are communication channels (but not used by most bloggers) and things do get organized now and then (like a fundraising drive that about 20% of the blgogers engage in every year).

This is all very much on purpose. We blog as indy bloggers, and the ‘overlords’ (Seed’s Sb staff) organize all this internal network wide link love (reader’s picks, ed’s picks, most active, Page 3.14, the front page, 24 hour page, RSS feeds, etc.) and make links between things like NYT and NGS. But as bloggers, we’re just blogging away.

In once sense, I would say that PepsiBlawg Gate was an example of a “community” forming out of a thing that really wasn’t much of a community because most bloggers had fairly negative feelings about the blog so some degree of organization happened.

It would be interesting in the end to look at the kinds of things people do and their reaction to the Pepsiblog. There may be some stark (and thus perhaps not really that interesting in the end) patterns there. For the most part, labby research scientists did not quit, journalists and book writers did, for instance. Which brings up a point that Bora has almost talked me out of but not quite yet: Journalistic modus operendi, ethics, etc. are fundamentally different than for scientists. Not saying one is better than the other … just that they are fondling different parts of the elephant.

Which is a thought I’ll leave you with but I don’t recommend keeping in your head for too long.

My reply:

Even though my connection with the Scienceblog community was as a reader and sometimes commenter, as a scientist I feel confident that I can provide an opinion (My family knows that I have an opinion on everything so maybe that is a personal trait rather than a professional one. But ‘as a scientist’ sounds better than ‘as a know-it-all’). Confident mainly because I have been a part of several real-life enactments of just such a ‘community’ of researchers, connected by weak ties, who, through a precipitating event by ‘outsiders,’ came together to take some sort of action.

So, I think to a certain degree we may be arguing semantics about what really defines a community. In large measure, Scienceblogs is a network with mostly weak ties, but with some links perhaps a little stronger than others. And while there was not a decided push to create a defined community with uniform rules, titles and positions, when humans work along the same lines, doing similar things – even in digital space – connections get made and a sense of comity starts to emerge.

Thus insider slang terms like Sciblings, blogchild and Overlords developed. You would see memes and arguments sweep through certain blogs. There obviously were some strong connections that provided rapid information transfer between Sciblings.

There was an nascent community just waiting for an event that would precipitate action, making many weak ties much stronger, while breaking some altogether.

In the instances I have been involved in, a bunch of independent-minded, “leave me alone to do my work” researchers came together because a decision was made by upper management that directly affected the scientists – a decision that was never discussed with them until AFTER it was made. The scientists were left out of any input in the decision, even though it affected every single one of them.

In each case, there was a rapid meeting called by the researchers to discuss what they should do. Scientists who had never been in the same room with each other were now discussing the proper response with each other. Action had to be taken and committees were formed.

Instead of a bunch of weakly tied people, there were now a lot of very strongly defined paths for communication.

Perhaps this is only an aspect of egomaniac researchers, who think they have to be informed beforehand about anything and have a part of every decision. I do not think so. I think it can happen with any community when the weak ties that are present are tugged by an outside “threat.”

Heck, I’ve seen it happen in neighborhoods when a new development appears on the city plans.

What I think happened with the PepsiBlawg Gate was a crystallization of a large fragment of the network because, to some, it became obvious that the reasons they had joined and maintained even weak ties in the network /community were in conflict with what the ‘Overlords’ wanted to do. The lack of communication, and the ‘disrespect’ that engendered, meant some sort of response was needed.

And I’ve been fascinated by that response, because it has taken many forms. Some people exited without any need for real consultation. Some did not begin to really think about it until others in the network/community that they respected made a decision – Bora being the strongest example. Still others, such as PZ, decided to take direct action and go on strike unless the ‘Overlords’ listened to them.

These are all ways one would expect different people in a community to respond to change. It is what I spend my days examining at SpreadingScience.

I do not think Scienceblogs will vanish. It’ll be different. I think there will be much more defined communication between members, with regular meetings between the bloggers and the people from Seed Media. Instead of an ad hoc sort of network/community, it may very well become a much more defined one. Like the taming of the Old West, it may be more or less attractive, depending on the outlook of the individual. The bloggers who left may very well continue to link and discuss things written on Scienceblogs. The reverse will also happen.

In effect, there will be a much wider network/community with some very strong, defined ties that were not present before. I expect other types of science blogging sites to become important – such as Science 2.0 and others. It’ll be great for most of the bloggers and their readers. It may just not be quite as optimal for Seed as it had been before when they virtually had cornered the market.

And that was kind of my point in the post. If Seed had been a little better about servicing its bloggers, it would have kept the market pretty much to itself. Now, not so much. Meaning that, as far as it might be concerned, there is a loss in value that might take some effort to recreate. Effort that it would not have needed if it had not ticked people off.

Finally, I think that the different viewpoints between scientific journalists and journalistic scientists makes for a much better description of the elephant than either alone. In any effective network/community, diversity of world views is a key part. It is very hard to solve complex problems over and over if everyone thinks the same way. It is the friction that arises from the different views that eventually allows us to make the wise decision.

Good meetings are a community affair

meeting by clagnut

Death by committee. Rethinking the art of getting things done.
[Via Creativity Central]

“A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours” – Milton Berle

Who would have thought that Uncle Miltie would be the voice of common sense when it came to that hallowed gathering of people called the committee.

Lewis Thomas, the late great physician, poet, administrator (Dean of Yale Medical School and New York University School of Medicine and President of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute) and sublime essayist — wrote a telling and insightful essay called On Committees.

“The marks of selfness are laid out in our behavior irreversibly, unequivocally, whether we are assembled in groups or off on a stroll alone…thus when committees gather, each member is necessarily an actor, uncontrollably acting out the part of himself, reading the lines that identify his identity.

This takes quite a lot of time and energy, and while it is going on there is little chance of anything else getting done.

Many committees have been appointed in one year and go on working well into the next decade, with nothing much happening beyond these extended uninterruptable displays by each member of his special behavioral marks.

If it were not for such compulsive behavior by the individuals, committees would be a marvelous invention for getting collective thinking done.

But there it is. We are designed, coded, it seems, to place the highest priority on being individuals, and we must do this first, even if it means disability for the group.”

Thomas, owing to the breadth of his experience in academia and the government, probably spent more hours in committees than was humanly possible.

The questions he posed nearly twenty years ago are still relevant. How might we improve how committees work. He cited work done by the RAND Corporation in the ‘60s called the Delphi Technique. Which is an elongated version of what we now call the Idea Exchange.

Members would answer key questions individually. Answers would be circulated to all members as a catalyst to refine their answers again. After three cycles, they would discuss as much of a consensus as could have been reached.

The process worked well because it mitigated somewhat, the need for “self” performance. Thomas continues “What Delphi is, is a really quiet, thoughtful conversation, in which everyone gets a chance to listen. The background noise of small talk, and the recurrent sonic boom of vanity are eliminated from the outset and there is time to think.”   


Good committee function is a necessary requirement for any sort of adaptive company. Successful meetings must be actively facilitated, either by trained specialists (not often) or by properly educated members of the committee.

Also, there needs to be a strong negative feedback that strives to get rid of meetings. Meetings need to have a defined purpose, one that either deals with short-term emergencies or regular information transfer.

It needs to be cultural.

When I was working at the bench, we would have meetings twice a month for each project. Since most of us were working on 2 or more projects, you could easily have to be ready for two meetings a week. Including prep time, this could be a lot of time and productivity lost to meetings.

The project chairs ran each meeting and the purpose of the meeting was purely information transfer. It was up to the project chairs to fill the time and if it was not filled in a productive fashion, they heard about it. They were to make the meetings worth OUR while, not purely to stroke their own egos.

We all felt it was better to cancel a meeting than to get everyone together for a lot of unimportant drivel.

We worked to kill unproductive meetings. We all did.

Organizations need to strongly present controls on meetings that serve no useful purpose. They need to permit people to stand up in a meeting and ask “Why are we here?” and require the members to have strong reasons for attending.

Meetings, when done well, are incredibly important. They can rapidly collapse social networks, providing huge amounts of information to rapidly traverse the organization. As the above post stated:

The best committees I have participated in or led, have immediate (urgency) goals. This ad-hoc, short term approach energizes the group.

When AgriLife Communications as Texas A&M University was faced with preparing Texas communities for two destructive hurricanes — the result was some remarkable, effective work across an entire state in very little time.

Build accountability into every meeting. Set a goal for that meeting and designate an individual to evaluate that meeting for immediate and actionable feedback.

It is up to everyone to make sure meetings are more than a waste of time. Simply getting together is not good enough. it is an active process.

And when done well in this fashion, there are few processes that can create a successfully adaptive organizations faster.

Skating to where the puck will be

innovateby jordigraells

Microsoft and the Innovator’s Paradox

[Via HarvardBusiness.org]

“The Odds Are Increasing That Microsoft’s Business Will Collapse”

That’s a pretty good title if you (like Henry Blodget from Silicon Alley Insider, the writer of the article) are trying to grab eyeballs. It also provides a useful introduction to what I call the “Innovator’s Paradox.”

Blodget’s article was provocative. He argued that Microsoft is in a no-win situation. It isn’t sitting on any idea that is on the cusp of turning into a multi-billion dollar business. The personal computer is losing its dominance to mobile devices and tablets. The company’s core profit drivers (Windows and Office) are under disruptive assault from Google’s freely available applications and operating system. At best, Microsoft will respond with its own free products and erode its profit margin.

The most telling thing in Blodget’s post was a chart that showed the sources of Microsoft’s profits over the past few years. Microsoft’s core business has continued &#8212 despite continued proclamations of the company’s coming demise &#8212 to throw off cash and to grow. But new growth businesses that were specks in 2006 (entertainment and devices and online services) remain tiny, and Microsoft hasn’t created any material new businesses over the past few years.

So the real problem isn’t what Microsoft is doing today. It’s what Microsoft did, or didn’t do, five, or even 10 years ago. At the time, its base business was a bastion of strength. Today’s threats were in their infancies. It would have been the perfect time to plant seeds that today would be blooming profit generators.

Why didn’t it? It’s The Innovator’s Paradox: When you don’t need the growth, you act in ways that lead to you not getting the growth you will need. And when you do need the growth, you can’t act in ways that deliver it.

Got that?



The problem here, as stated so well in the Innovator’s Dilemma is that even companies that recognize they need to change, that they need to come up with the next big product, are too often totally unable to do so. There are lots of reasons for this but one of the major ones stems from the difference between the truths of exploitation (marketing) and formulation (research).

As was explained to me many years ago, research costs money directly from the bottom line. But marketing makes money, that for every dollar spent on marketing the company makes $4. So it is simply idiotic to spend money on research.

That is the difficulty during the exploitation stage – it is too easy for those who are doing the exploiting to really support the work of those doing the formulation. It takes tremendous personal effort by engaged management to keep the company on the course of innovation.

How do you know where the puck is going? One way that I have personally seen work quite well involves continuous vetting of the ideas from all points of view. The project is examined and critiqued, always in a way to make it better.

And this requires a very special sort of corporate culture – one that abides failure and one that does not abide zero-sum solutions. Let me expand the latter.

What often happens in many mature companies that have low resources for new growth is that the only way I can get my project funded to to make sure that your project is not funded. The only way for me to succeed is for you to fail. Once this happens, innovation is really strangled.

Any innovation that arises will either be destroyed by those with more power or co-opted, removing it from the very people who were innovative. This is one reason why many mature companies only innovate by buying another company’s innovation.

Breaking the Paradox requires not permitting this rot to take root. But simply putting resources into innovation is not enough.

There are two companies today that continue to demonstrate an ability to overcome the Innovator’s Dilemma/Paradox – Apple and Google.. A key point is that management there follows Wayne Gretzky’s maxim: I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.But each take very different routes to the puck.

Google allows its workers to spend up to 20% of their time working on innovative ideas. This is a really effective way to allow innovative people to create wonderful things.

Google does its vetting in public. Google often thrust these innovations out into the wild as a public beta, giving us lots of possibilities but asking the public to do the vetting required to determine whether the innovations were really useful. This we have had lots of Google novelties – Wave, Knol,Chrome, Android, etc – that are somewhat hit or miss. It is almost as if Google skates everywhere, waiting for the odds to allow success. Even when one succeeds in being where the puck is, it is often not strong enough to be ready to score. Some more tinkering will be necessary. But at least now they know where to focus some effort. With some further help, the innovation can become a success.

It can do this because it really has to spend little time making sure each item is great. It follows the DIKW model, working through rapid iterations to reach the correct choice. This allows it to throw out a lot of innovations but even the best ones are often just good enough. It can take many more iterations to move towards perfection where more focussed vetting may be necessary while, especially as the products move into the exploitation phase, there is less incentive to.

I’ve written a lot about innovation at Apple. Apple supports innovation but takes a different route to a released product. Apple keeps its vetting much more private. They put a lot of focus on releasing products that are already successful, rather than simply iterating itself there. When the public learns of a new innovation, it is almost totally fully realized. Apple has continually driven innovative approaches through several different products – iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. – any one of which most companies would be happy to maintain.

Apple most likely has a range of possible innovations in the stream – we hear rumors of all sorts of things. But, whereas Google places its innovation in the public eye for us to vet, Apple does this in private. It harshly examines them, rapidly arriving at only one place to meet the puck, but what is there is incredibly strong and is able to drive to success almost by itself.

Apple has a focus on its innovations that permits it to attain success repeatedly. Google may have less focus on specific innovations, but its iterative cycle can be so rapid that it can reach success also.

Each approach has real benefits. By focussing so strongly on where it believes the puck is going, Apple has actually been able to create products that were actually inconceivable for the public before release. But by putting many eggs in one basket as it were (yes I know too many metaphors) it runs the risk of mistaking where the puck will be.

Google does not really need to be sure of where the puck will go. It can simply put so many innovations out there, that one of them is bound to hit. However, its lack of focus can often mean that really disruptive innovations may not get the push they need – they get lost in the crowd.

Both Apple and Google are exemplars of their particular niche when it comes to sustaining innovations. The ways they figure out where the puck will be are different but the basic recognition that anticipating the puck is paramount for their company is the same.

So, companies that want to break the innovator’s paradox need to figure out if they should follow the Apple model or the Google one.

[As an aside, it is obvious that Pixar follows a similar model as Apple and has, not too surprisingly, become the most successful studio in Hollywood.]