Raising innovations


Molly Fleming writes in MarketingWeek:

In a results call for investors today (10 July), PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi revealed that the company is creating “a small entrepreneurial group” that will sit separate to the rest of the business.

She explained: “It is a business within a business and will be taken out of the core headquarters. It’s going to be an entrepreneurial group which will take some of the products we launched and nurture and incubate them to find what works.”

The Hive, modeled off a similar set-up that already exists in Europe, will look for “new age brands”, as well as fostering burgeoning ones within the business.

Separating innovation from the core business is a strategy PepsiCo used in its launch of new Drinkfinity earlier this year in order to foster a startup culture.

This relationship between the core business strategy and its innovation portfolio is tricky.

In the 1970s, ecologist framed two reproductive strategies for species: r-strategists had many offspring with little parental investment while K-strategists had a few offspring they invested heavily in rearing. The idea, crudely put, is that in rapidly changing environments, it’s better to create a lot of variance in offspring and let the fittest survive. In more stable environments a few, well-invested bets have a better chance.

This seems to be where innovation management is now. Some companies look at a rapidly changing market and turn to incubators, idea-contests, and skunkworks in hopes of raising a generation of many new ventures from which the fittest will emerge. Others build a clear strategic vision for their markets and, with that sense of stability, commit to a few bold ventures.

As an ecological theory, r-K strategies generated a lot of attention, which spurred a lot of research, which proved the theory was way too simplistic for all the different organisms and environments out there. Since the field of innovation management doesn’t self-regulate like that, the simple either-or still holds great appeal. Truth is neither option is a magic bullet when, in the end, the answer is it all depends.

Microsoft, GitHub, and the Irony

Microsoft acquiring GitHub, the largest open-source code repository, brings them full circle to the infamous 1976 open letter by Gates to computer hobbyists who were sharing, not buying, their BASIC software for the Altair. The irony should be savored.


In ’75, Microsoft got its start when Gates and Allen adapted BASIC for the Altair 8800. BASIC was originally written by two Dartmouth professors, who put it in the public domain. As Paul Ceruzzi wrote in A History of Modern Computing:

“with its skillful combination of features taken from Dartmouth and from the Digital Equipment Corporation, [BASIC] was the key to Gates’ and Allen’s success in establishing a personal computer software industry.”In 1981, MS-DOS, Microsoft’s operating system for the IBM PC, was acquired for $75,000 from the tiny Seattle Computer Products (who themselves borrowed it from Digital Research’s CP/M).

That wasn’t the last of Microsoft’s creative pursuits.

Microsoft Word was originally written by Xerox PARC engineers as Bravo (but never marketed); it became a Microsoft product when Microsoft hired one of its original authors, Charles Simonyi, away from PARC.

Excel was derived from Visicalc by Software Arts, and from Lotus.

And the graphical user environment that is Windows first appeared at PARC in the Alto personal computer, and then in the Apple Macintosh, before becoming Microsoft’s flagship product.

The world is powered by building on and recombining what has come before. Too often, where we stand on this fundamental creative process depends on whether we profits from creating or defending our innovations.

A window into entrepreneurship education

Some exceptional folks in entrepreneurship at HBS just announced Harvard was closing their NYC-based Startup Studio. Considering the program’s ambitions matched the leadership of the Entrepreneurship program and the largesse of the school, the outcome offers a great window into the challenges of teaching entrepreneurship.1 Continue reading

2016: The Year of The Hype

For my 2016 Innovation of the Year—celebrating that innovation which most changed the game—one stood clearly in front of all others. Largely because it also stood clearly behind so many of the others: hype. Like all past IOTY winners, hyperbole wasn’t invented in 2016 but this was the year it demonstrated its truly disruptive potential. Continue reading

Lesley Gore, innovation in context

Lesley Gore passed away this week. She’s probably best know for It’s my Party but my favorite is You Don’t Own Me. To teenage girls in the early 1960s, looking at a bleak future in a Mad Men world, this must have been a powerful message (the song later became a feminist anthem). It’s hard to appreciate innovations like that 2-minute song without having the context of the times. So to honor her memory, my daughter and I played the song and then, to appreciate the context, watched the Folgers coffee ads of the time. Continue reading

On the Folly of Adopting A while Hoping for Apple

FastCompany released its annual “50 Most Innovative Companies” list, one of the more enjoyable of the dozens published every year. Pick up any one of these and three things become immediately apparent. First, there is no shortage of role models for innovation. Second, outside the crowd favorites (Apple, Google, and Facebook) there is little overlap between lists. Third and perhaps most importantly, each company and what makes them innovative ranges wildly. Continue reading