I’m angry, not jetlagged. It’s 4:30am and I’m banging on the keyboard from my hotel room desk when I should be asleep, fueling for a keynote I deliver to a thousand electronics executives in four hours.
What tossed me out of bed and pulled me to my laptop was not the three-hour time difference between New York and San Diego. It’s disbelief.
And not even my own disbelief. The disbelief I face when I tell people – as I do three times a day now – that the driving force of innovation in society has not been entrepreneurs. It’s been employees.
The evidence is clear. I dug into the histories of the most transformative innovations over the last three decades – the internet, mobile phones, PCs – and found 73% of them were originated by employees, working inside large organizations.
I shared my work with a colleague who has spent his career in Silicon Valley. After going through about 10 pages of manuscript, his comment was, “It is well established that corporations have trouble innovating and so entrepreneurs primarily do it. Look at Clayton Christensen’s innovator’s dilemma, for example.”
I wanted to pull my hair out! I’ve read all of Christensen’s stuff – and Steve Blank’s and Rita Gunther McGrath’s and John Hagel’s and John Mullins’. They offer compelling case examples and logic, but no one has conducted a broad study to test whether the logic holds.
They show that corporations have structures that hinder innovation. But the idea that innovations cannot be made within corporate structures simply does not hold up to reality.
I’ll repeat: 73% of the most transformative innovations came from employees in corporations. Not from entrepreneurs.
I’m reading a fascinating book that explains the perplexing response of most people. In “The Knowledge Illusion,” two cognitive scientists, Philip Fernbach and Steven Sloman, explain that humans do not think on their own. We believe we are independent, logic thinkers, but actually most of what we think we know is not grounded in fact. It’s dictated by our community.
We believe because others believe. Others believe because yet others do as well.
As a result, we go through life thinking we believe things that in reality we do not understand. In one experiment, the researchers asked people if they thought they understood how a zipper works. People use zippers all the time so they figure they understand how they work. They rated their own knowledge on a scale.
The researchers then asked people to describe in as much detail as they could the mechanics of a zipper.
When they asked people again to rate their knowledge, subjects had realized they knew very little. They rated their knowledge much lower.