The innovation paradox

bulb_onThink about your work and ask yourself this simple question: “What would I improve if their were no constraints?”. Next ask yourself the questions: “How sure am I that the constraints really exist? Did I try? Is there really no workaround?”.

“What would I improve if their were no constraints?”

The paradox

Businesses tend to steer for compliance, cost reduction and security to achieve financial stability. They also wonder why they fail to innovate. I learned that this is called the “innovation paradox” as organizations tend to pursuit two seemingly opposite goals. So if you are caught in that struggle, then I suggest that you read Jeffrey Phillips on his blog “innovate on purpose”.


These 10 quotes may inspire you on your search for innovation:

  1. “The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard
  2. “When all think alike, then no one is thinking.” – Walter Lippman
  3. “Managers maintain the present while leaders create the future.” – Orrin Woodward
  4. “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” – John Maynard Keynes
  5. “Dreaming is largely lost among adults drowning in self-imposed realities.” – Ryan Lilly
  6. “A key ingredient in innovation is the ability to challenge authority and break rules.” – Vivek Wadhwa
  7. “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there will be no hope for it.” – A. Einstein.
  8. “Innovators are inevitably controversial.” – Eva Le Gallienne
  9. “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” – Theodore Levitt
  10. “No obstacle is so big that one person with determination can’t make a difference.” – Jay Samit

Parallel thinking

Even in a team of people that are creative and have the guts to innovate, there is one thing that can ruin everything: ego play. All creative ideas and innovation plans should be team owned and not be associated with a single team member. Tools like De Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” can help you to create a parallel mind that dreams up team owned ideas during a brainstorm session.


“Beware of programmers carrying screwdrivers.”


Every now and then I run into the programmer proverb “Beware of programmers carrying screwdrivers.” I’m intrigued by it and I want to know: Who said that and what does it mean? Two names showed up on my Google searches to the origin of the quote: Leonard Brandwein and Chip Salzenberg. I’ve got absolutely no evidence to claim that either one of them said it, let alone said it first. Maybe they’ve both said it independently.

What does it mean?

Despite my searching, I am not sure what the quote means. I feel the most obvious meaning is that, since programming normally does not involve screwdrivers, you should stick to your specialism. Sort of the same meaning as: “Jack of all trades, master of none”. It could also mean that programmers with screwdrivers are the ones building computers. They might be hardware enthusiasts that are overly obsessed with getting every last Mhz of performance out of the machine and are likely to be guilty of “premature optimization“. Or it could mean that people that have screwdrivers might be the ones that will be replacing parts, when things don’t work. They may be the “blame the hardware” or overly pragmatic type. Last explanation I could come up with is that it is about programmers in the 70’s that were building their own computers like the Apple I DIY kit. You probably need to be aware that their level of experience and reputation is unparalleled and arguing with their ideas is pointless. But let’s assume it is about specialism vs. generalism as that seems most likely.

Specialists vs. generalists

Nobody argues in favor of being a generalist like Tim Ferriss on his fourhourworkweek blog:

“Was Steve Jobs a better programmer than top coders at Apple? No, but he had a broad range of skills and saw the unseen interconnectedness. As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest.”

So was Steve Jobs a programmer carrying a screwdriver? And what about specialists?

“The specialist who imprisons himself in self-inflicted one-dimensionality — pursuing and impossible perfection — spends decades stagnant or making imperceptible incremental improvements while the curious generalist consistently measures improvement in quantum leaps. It is only the latter who enjoys the process of pursuing excellence.”

I tend to agree, but I guess I just overly romanticize the idea of being a Renaissance man. 🙂