Steve Jobs was instrumental in shaping and in some cases reshaping the PC, Telecom, Internet, Media, Entertainment and Retail Industries. He created the post-mini-computer era with the Apple PC. And more recently he was one of the first to create successful business models around digital convergence, i.e., the coming together of data, voice and video. In doing so, Apple is a pioneer in the post-PC era or the TIME era (Telecom, Internet, Media and Entertainment). Unfortunately, a Steve Jobs like innovator comes every 100 years. The last time that one individual had such a profound effect on so many industries simultaneously was Edison.
So, firms cannot depend on “Jobs” like individuals to show up and save their firms. Instead of looking for those special individuals, executives should look at how enduring enterprises like 3M, GE, Siemens, P&G, IBM and other 100+ year old firms nurture and create a culture of innovation.
Innovation is not magic; it is not luck. Innovation is a discipline. It is a “discipline” like chemistry, law, quality, marketing or psychology. It is a field of study. It is a body of knowledge. All disciplines can be learned and mastered. Which means that we can teach it, we can learn it, we can practice it and we can master it through discipline (rigor and diligence). Enterprises and leaders should understand that we are all not experts in finance or marketing. So, we will not all be experts in innovation. However, everyone in the firm has to be knowledgeable about innovation, like being knowledgeable about finance and quality. But, enterprises have to create a cadre of innovation experts within the firm. The only way for them to do that is like training every other type of expert within the firm; through knowledge à practice à discipline.
Innovation is a new discipline, even though we as humans have been doing it for millennia. 20 years ago quality was a new discipline that swept through businesses. And academia quickly started to incorporate quality into their curricula. The same thing is going on with innovation in the last 5 years. Most MBA programs did not have courses in innovation a decade ago. But today it has become mainstream. The best MBA programs combine education with practice. At Babson we have been training entrepreneurs and innovators now for decades and with very high rates of success.