I know it sounds preposterous, but it is increasingly clear to me that the professionals who generate invention—engineers, scientists and mathematicians—are often the enemies of innovation. Yes, I realize that Google and other great companies are the products of mathematical minds, but I would argue that unless Google becomes more social sciency and less science sciency, it will ossify and be replaced. Perhaps that has already begun.
Which is my point. Innovation is about social applications of inventions, not about the inventions themselves. Engineers, scientists and mathematicians don’t get this. It’s not part of their culture. We see time and again, engineeering-driven corporate cultures failing because they don’t address the social needs of their customers and they don’t address the social ramifications of invention.
Motorola, for example, has working touch-screen cell phones in China years before the iPhone (works great with complex Chinese writing system) but wouldn’t bring it to the US because the engineering-dominant company leaders focussed on technology and features, not use.
P&G got into serious trouble before A.G. Lafley took over as CEO because it was a chemistry-driven culture that insisted on its scientists doing everything. Lafley turned it into a consumer-driven company and opened it to innovation from all over the globe. Lafley redesigned the corporate model for faster innovation.
There are a million examples of this. It is turning out that the US is great at invention but not so great at innovation. We need more anthropologists and sociologists working with our engineers and scientists to develop services, products and experiences that people need and want. And we need managers in companies to understand what they do and enable this doing.
Check out InnoCentive’s CEO, Dwayne Spradlin, on building an innovation culture. Culture is not something engineers, scientists or mathematicians know much about. Where’s Margaret Mead when we need her?