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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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Mistakes as a Source of Innovation

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos  Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Effective leaders adhered to an unalterable expectation that mistakes and failure need to be an acceptable part of the process of innovation. They opposed “zero tolerance for mistakes” policies, many of which are still being practiced in many companies today. They considered these to be hindrances to innovation.

“It’s easy to believe that Jeff Bezos is one of the great innovators. But that’s not exactly the case. His rise into Fortune 500-dom actually has little to do with innovation and more to do with iteration. If anything, Amazon demonstrates how a cutting-edge Internet company – of all things – can succeed slowly. The trick is taking a million tiny steps – and quickly learning from your missteps.” [1]

The mega-inventors of the 19th Century are also prime examples of this philosophy. “[George] Westinghouse (Westinghouse) built on his engineering skills, learning how to design and evaluate industrial trials. Time after time he turned trial failures into commercial successes. Even his competitors hailed his problem solving skills…” [2] “[Thomas] Edison (Edison Electric) viewed even disasters as an opportunity for learning. On one occasion his lab stove went out in the dead of winter, causing an assortment of expensive chemicals to freeze. On another occasion unprotected chemicals were damaged by sunlight. Instead of bemoaning the losses, Edison put aside all other projects to catalogue changes in the properties of the bottled substances… ‘He knew how to turn lemons into lemonade.’[3]

Walt Disney (Disney) took a proactive approach toward mistakes. “Walt found a way to push improvement without laying blame. [He] take(s) a look at what [someone says]… not glossing over a problem with the gag. He implicitly acknowledges it could be better. But rather than indulge an employee’s criticism of another worker, he demands a positive, forward-thinking attitude – ‘what we can do to make it better…’ Walt kept employees engaged and contributing by not shooting down suggestions, but instead steering employees toward improving their ideas… Walt’s approach to suggestions as the difference between responding ‘Yes, if…’ or ‘No, because…’ [4]

As Sam Walton grew Wal-Mart into a retailing giant, he realized that “not all of his ideas worked. The minnow buckets didn’t sell. People in Wisconsin didn’t go for his Moon Pies. But when he saw he was wrong, he admitted his mistake and went on to try something else. And he wanted his associates to be the same way. He’d get them together on Saturday mornings to share their success and admit their failures. That culture of candor produced a great environment to capture ideas. It helped that he had ‘very little capacity for embarrassment.’[5]


[1]  Quittner Josh, The Charming Life of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (Fortune Magazine, April 15, 2008)

[2]  Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., George Westinghouse: Gentle Genius (Algora Publishing, New York, 2007) p. 61

[3]  McAuliffe Kathleen, The Undiscovered World of Thomas Edison (Atlantic Magazine, December 1995)

[4]  Niles Robert, Disney Legends Recall Walt Disney and the ‘Yes, It…. Way of Management (Theme Park Insider, November 19, 2009)

[5]  Walton Sam Made in America. A Money Book Summary (character-education.info)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2012)

Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Formulating Questions as a Source of Continuous Improvement

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William Hewlett and David Packard - Founders of Hewlett-Packard

William Hewlett and David Packard – Founders of Hewlett-Packard

There is a common misconception that innovation stems from a single “ah-hah” moment. That may be true for the initial idea, but the great and influential leaders experienced long and often painful periods of development and extended periods of refinement before the ideas were manifested into a viable product.

In reality, most innovation is the direct result of a long series of continuous improvements, which serve to perfect both new and existing ideas. For example, there is a television show on the Science Channel entitled, “How It’s Made.” Each episode explains how three or four commonly used products are manufactured. They often showcase complex and automated production machines that produce large volumes of product. As my wife and I watch these programs, we often ask the question, “Who thinks up these intricate machines and complicated processes?” While modern engineers can now design complex production lines, they still remain the result of a long process of continuous improvements that are built upon each other, often over years of design, experimentation and development. Most of these machines were developed with one single automated step. Over time more steps, and more machines were added that ultimately created the entire automated processes one can physically observe today.

This complex engineering concept and its process can be said to originate with George Westinghouse (Westinghouse). “His methodology of observation and research, rough creation via stretching, then engineering drawing, followed by scale modeling, and finally scientific testing defines the discipline of engineering to this day. This pragmatic approach applied science to engineering. The title that is overlooked for Westinghouse is the father of industrial and manufacturing engineering…

Westinghouse had clearly evolved past the trial and error methods of many early Victorian inventors. He started to use science to narrow the scope of experiments needed. This is another example of Westinghouse’s pioneering in the methodology of modern research and development. Men like Edison wasted endless hours in trial and error experiments, while Westinghouse eliminated many trials by the application of science…

Invention was seen as a craft, which would become the discipline of engineering. Westinghouse, more than any of the great Victorian inventers, pioneered the discipline of the engineering craft. His approach would evolve into the corporate approach to research and development used even today.”

Continuous improvement and innovation doesn’t just apply to engineering and industrial production. Effective leaders apply it to all aspects of their business. Alfred Sloan (General Motors) stated, “I made it a practice throughout the 1920s and early thirties to make personal visits to dealers… visiting from five to ten dealers a day. I would meet them in their own places of business and ask them for suggestions and criticisms concerning their relation with the corporation, the character of the product, the corporation’s policies, the trend of consumer demand, their view of the future, and many other things of interest in the business. I made careful notes of all the points that came up, and when I got back home I studied them.”

Henry Luce (Time) “was able to succeed even in areas he knew little about, because he asked all the right questions, and he never stopped asking. For instance, Luce was an avid golfer, but when it came to baseball or boxing, he could not tell the difference between a diamond and a ring. But in launching Sports Illustrated, Luce undertook an intensive cram course in every sport he needed to familiarize himself with. He was determined to learn everything he did not already know, and that he might need to down the road. Luce appreciated the past, looked to the future, and asked all the right questions along the way. He never stopped asking what could be.”

  1.  Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., George Westinghouse: Gentle Genius (Algora Publishing, New York, 2007) p. 59-60
  2. The Leadership of Alfred Sloan (CareerAge.com)
  3. Carmichael Evan, Lesson #5 Curiosity Never Killed the Cat (www.evancarmichael.com)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

If You Want to Lead… Innovate!

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Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft  Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“You keep innovating if you want to keep leading… Exceptional leaders cultivate the Merlin-like habit of acting in the present moment as ambassadors of a radically different future, in order to imbue their organizations with a breakthrough vision of what it is possible to achieve.” [1] Within the context of this chapter, the breadth and scope of innovations introduced in multiple areas demonstrates the great leaders’ ability to lead within their respective industries.

Bill Gates (Microsoft) asserted, “Research, I think, is the lifeblood of innovation in the economy. But big companies always have a problem taking their research and making sure it’s focused on the problems that count. And even if you make a breakthrough, do you really get that research into the products that you ship? In our industry, companies like Xerox or AT&T are famous not just for doing fairly good research, but in many cases not ever being able to bring it to the marketplace. So when we started Microsoft Research, we said, let’s make sure we’re the best case ever not only of great researchers, but getting that into products. And so events like this — where it’s almost like a festival — you come and see all the neat research advances. That’s one of the ways we make sure these groups are working like a team.” [2]

Innovation is a time-intensive process, which normally doesn’t fit into neat time blocks. Amazon is a noteworthy example. Jeff Bezos explains, “As far as time-frame is concerned, innovations at Amazon usually take 5-7 years before they make any meaningful impact on the company’s economic situation. This is a big risk and is offset in a number of ways. One is to minimize the costs of experiments. Amazon has a web lab just for that purpose, which undertakes these experiments on a massive scale, collects real usage data on what works best, and is constantly trying to push the costs of these experiments down. Again, taking a long-term view, it helps when building innovation on things that won’t change in the next 5-10 years. For Amazon, these are basic customer preferences, such as: choice, low prices, and fast.

There are three more core-attitudes, which I think have a big impact on the way innovation takes shape at Amazon. One is, to always ask the question ‘why not?’”… The biggest mistakes at Amazon come from not doing something, rather than taking the risk. And asking ‘why not?’ instead of ‘why should we do it?’ opens up a whole other universe of possibilities. Similarly, there are lot of difficult decisions that Amazon has had to make over the years, such as allowing reviews on their site. The vital question there was ’what is better for the customer?’ Last, but not least… ‘Be Stubborn on the vision, and flexible on the details.’ ” [3]

Andy Grove (Intel) made the following observations. “ ‘It is not something where you have a crystal ball to start with and you guess right,’ he emphasizes. ‘You constantly have to guide your efforts and add more ingredients – effort, money, people, undertakings, and alliances. It is partly anticipation, and partly turning that anticipation into a reality. When you have a three-to-four-year development cycle and factories that take three to four years to build and ramp up – and you add a year or two where you are making decisions about what the information technology world will want five years into the future, part of it is learned guesswork. You do your own guesswork – and then you work like hell to make your guesswork become reality… And you obviously need a whole industry to support some of this, so you turn to evangelism. And to make sure your evangelism carries weight, you invest in some [small start-up] companies to make sure you are taken seriously.” [4]

As the examples cited within this chapter clearly illustrate, innovation takes many forms. They include concept, product, process, practice and application. Each is succinctly fueled by the practice of “ruthless efficiency,” designed to improve the customer’s experience by increasing quality, efficiency and driving down costs. Most innovations were the direct result and consequence of a series of continuous improvements, sprinkled with several “Eureka!” moments. Leopold Mannes, co-developer of Kodak’s Kodachrome photographic film stated, “Invention is primarily the art of getting out of trouble.” [5] Fueled by necessity, the great leaders pioneered innovation to solve problems to leverage available opportunities, and to achieve a competitive advantage.

  1. Meyers William, Conscience in a Cup of Coffee (U.S. News, October 31, 2005)
  2.  A One-on-One Interview with Bill Gates (CNN.com, March 1, 2002)
  3.  van Wyitck Vincent, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on Strategy & Innovation (not Kindle-related!) (Tech IT Easy, November 20, 2007)
  4.  Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)
  5. Brayer Elizabeth, George Eastman. A Biography (University of Rochester Press, Rochester, NY, 2006) p. 224

Related:

Building Employee Support Requires Interactive Leadership

Eight Ways Others Evaluate Trust in Leaders

Five Strategies to Build Trust

The Concept of Change Means Leaders Must Communicate

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Leadership Roles & Responsibilities: Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Negative Employee Behaviors: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

The Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Mistakes as a Source of Innovation

with 4 comments

Jeff Bezos - Amazon.com

Effective leaders adhered to an unalterable expectation that mistakes and failure need to be an acceptable part of the process of innovation. They opposed “zero tolerance for mistakes” policies, many of which are still being practiced in many companies today. They considered these to be hindrances to innovation.

“It’s easy to believe that Jeff Bezos is one of the great innovators. But that’s not exactly the case. His rise into Fortune 500-dom actually has little to do with innovation and more to do with iteration. If anything, Amazon demonstrates how a cutting-edge Internet company – of all things – can succeed slowly. The trick is taking a million tiny steps – and quickly learning from your missteps.” [1]

The mega-inventors of the 19th Century are also prime examples of this philosophy. “[George] Westinghouse (Westinghouse) built on his engineering skills, learning how to design and evaluate industrial trials. Time after time he turned trial failures into commercial successes. Even his competitors hailed his problem solving skills…” [2] “[Thomas] Edison (Edison Electric) viewed even disasters as an opportunity for learning. On one occasion his lab stove went out in the dead of winter, causing an assortment of expensive chemicals to freeze. On another occasion unprotected chemicals were damaged by sunlight. Instead of bemoaning the losses, Edison put aside all other projects to catalogue changes in the properties of the bottled substances… ‘He knew how to turn lemons into lemonade.’[3]

Walt Disney (Disney) took a proactive approach toward mistakes. “Walt found a way to push improvement without laying blame. [He] take(s) a look at what [someone says]… not glossing over a problem with the gag. He implicitly acknowledges it could be better. But rather than indulge an employee’s criticism of another worker, he demands a positive, forward-thinking attitude – ‘what we can do to make it better…’ Walt kept employees engaged and contributing by not shooting down suggestions, but instead steering employees toward improving their ideas… Walt’s approach to suggestions as the difference between responding ‘Yes, if…’ or ‘No, because…’ [4]

As Sam Walton grew Wal-Mart into a retailing giant, he realized that “not all of his ideas worked. The minnow buckets didn’t sell. People in Wisconsin didn’t go for his Moon Pies. But when he saw he was wrong, he admitted his mistake and went on to try something else. And he wanted his associates to be the same way. He’d get them together on Saturday mornings to share their success and admit their failures. That culture of candor produced a great environment to capture ideas. It helped that he had ‘very little capacity for embarrassment.’[5]


[1]  Quittner Josh, The Charming Life of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (Fortune Magazine, April 15, 2008)

[2]  Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., George Westinghouse: Gentle Genius (Algora Publishing, New York, 2007) p. 61

[3]  McAuliffe Kathleen, The Undiscovered World of Thomas Edison (Atlantic Magazine, December 1995)

[4]  Niles Robert, Disney Legends Recall Walt Disney and the ‘Yes, It…. Way of Management (Theme Park Insider, November 19, 2009)

[5]  Walton Sam Made in America. A Money Book Summary (character-education.info)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, 2012)

If you would like to learn more about the power of innovation displayed by the great American leaders through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

________________________________________________________________________

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

February 21, 2012 at 10:53 am

Formulating Questions as a Source of Continuous Improvement

with 5 comments

George Westinghouse - Westinghouse Electric

There is a common misconception that innovation stems from a single “ah-hah” moment. That may be true for the initial idea, but the great and influential leaders experienced long and often painful periods of development and extended periods of refinement before the ideas were manifested into a viable product.

In reality, most innovation is the direct result of a long series of continuous improvements, which serve to perfect both new and existing ideas. For example, there is a television show on the Science Channel entitled, “How It’s Made.” Each episode explains how three or four commonly used products are manufactured. They often showcase complex and automated production machines that produce large volumes of product. As my wife and I watch these programs, we often ask the question, “Who thinks up these intricate machines and complicated processes?” While modern engineers can now design complex production lines, they still remain the result of a long process of continuous improvements that are built upon each other, often over years of design, experimentation and development. Most of these machines were developed with one single automated step. Over time more steps, and more machines were added that ultimately created the entire automated processes one can physically observe today.

This complex engineering concept and its process can be said to originate with George Westinghouse (Westinghouse). “His methodology of observation and research, rough creation via stretching, then engineering drawing, followed by scale modeling, and finally scientific testing defines the discipline of engineering to this day. This pragmatic approach applied science to engineering. The title that is overlooked for Westinghouse is the father of industrial and manufacturing engineering…

Westinghouse had clearly evolved past the trial and error methods of many early Victorian inventors. He started to use science to narrow the scope of experiments needed. This is another example of Westinghouse’s pioneering in the methodology of modern research and development. Men like Edison wasted endless hours in trial and error experiments, while Westinghouse eliminated many trials by the application of science…

Invention was seen as a craft, which would become the discipline of engineering. Westinghouse, more than any of the great Victorian inventers, pioneered the discipline of the engineering craft. His approach would evolve into the corporate approach to research and development used even today.”

Continuous improvement and innovation doesn’t just apply to engineering and industrial production. Effective leaders apply it to all aspects of their business. Alfred Sloan (General Motors) stated, “I made it a practice throughout the 1920s and early thirties to make personal visits to dealers… visiting from five to ten dealers a day. I would meet them in their own places of business and ask them for suggestions and criticisms concerning their relation with the corporation, the character of the product, the corporation’s policies, the trend of consumer demand, their view of the future, and many other things of interest in the business. I made careful notes of all the points that came up, and when I got back home I studied them.”

Henry Luce (Time) “was able to succeed even in areas he knew little about, because he asked all the right questions, and he never stopped asking. For instance, Luce was an avid golfer, but when it came to baseball or boxing, he could not tell the difference between a diamond and a ring. But in launching Sports Illustrated, Luce undertook an intensive cram course in every sport he needed to familiarize himself with. He was determined to learn everything he did not already know, and that he might need to down the road. Luce appreciated the past, looked to the future, and asked all the right questions along the way. He never stopped asking what could be.”

[1]  Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., George Westinghouse: Gentle Genius (Algora Publishing, New York, 2007) p. 59-60

[1]The Leadership of Alfred Sloan (CareerAge.com)

[1]  Carmichael Evan, Lesson #5 Curiosity Never Killed the Cat (www.evancarmichael.com)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about the great American leaders formulated questions as a source of continuous improvement and innovation in their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Utilizing Continuous Improvement and Innovation to Generate Growth

with 3 comments

Jeff Bezos - Amazon.com

Great leaders accelerated the power of emerging and growing markets through innovation. They utilized continuous improvement and innovation to generate growth, pioneer advancements and in many cases, to disrupt their industries to create strong competitive advantages.

“Figuring out innovation—how to come up with a killer new idea and then execute it—has long been an obsession of entrepreneurs and the academics and journalists who study them. One of the great myths of the innovation process, often reported in the popular press, involves a creative genius experiencing a ‘eureka moment,’ refining the golden idea, and then pursuing it toward blockbuster status… Successful side projects and the policies that nurture them somewhat deflate this myth. First, they highlight the random circumstances that can give rise to important inspiration. Second, they promote experimentation—not abstract brainstorming—because the ‘aha!’ moment does not always happen at the outset, as mythologized, but somewhere in the middle of the process. Third, they underscore not the mad, brilliant scientist at the top but the collective brainpower of all employees, especially those close to the customer—Richard Drew at 3M, Paul Buchheit at Google. These people are critical to sustaining innovation over the long term.”

Jeff Bezos (Amazon) asserted that it was important to “constantly be open to innovation that can benefit the customer. This point has been made many times in the words above, yet it bears repeating. A company can be incredibly rigid, the bigger it becomes. Competition can become incredibly threatening. Technology can change from one day to the next. But what doesn’t change is that customers will pay you for products that will make them happy. And I fear that a lot, a lot of businesses have forgotten that as they became big, arrogant, and focused on anything but what customers want…”

Innovation is directly correlated to the practice of “ruthless efficiency,” which will be discussed in detail in Chapter Six. It is the result or consequence of focusing on improving the customer’s experience, while continually driving down costs and increasing efficiencies. This is only achieved through the process of continuous improvement, and the introduction of new ideas and insights that result in innovation. “Ruthless efficiency” in reality, is the cause, while innovation is the effect.

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did and What You Can Learn From It. (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about the innovations and innovative thinking of the great American leaders through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

You Keep Innovating if You Want to Keep Leading

with 5 comments

“You keep innovating if you want to keep leading… Exceptional leaders cultivate the Merlin-like habit of acting in the present moment as ambassadors of a radically different future, in order to imbue their organizations with a breakthrough vision of what it is possible to achieve.” [1] Within the context of this chapter, the breadth and scope of innovations introduced in multiple areas demonstrates the great leaders’ ability to lead within their respective industries.

Bill Gates (Microsoft) asserted, “Research, I think, is the lifeblood of innovation in the economy. But big companies always have a problem taking their research and making sure it’s focused on the problems that count. And even if you make a breakthrough, do you really get that research into the products that you ship? In our industry, companies like Xerox or AT&T are famous not just for doing fairly good research, but in many cases not ever being able to bring it to the marketplace. So when we started Microsoft Research, we said, let’s make sure we’re the best case ever not only of great researchers, but getting that into products. And so events like this — where it’s almost like a festival — you come and see all the neat research advances. That’s one of the ways we make sure these groups are working like a team.” [2]

Innovation is a time-intensive process, which normally doesn’t fit into neat time blocks. Amazon is a noteworthy example. Jeff Bezos explains, “As far as time-frame is concerned, innovations at Amazon usually take 5-7 years before they make any meaningful impact on the company’s economic situation. This is a big risk and is offset in a number of ways. One is to minimize the costs of experiments. Amazon has a web lab just for that purpose, which undertakes these experiments on a massive scale, collects real usage data on what works best, and is constantly trying to push the costs of these experiments down. Again, taking a long-term view, it helps when building innovation on things that won’t change in the next 5-10 years. For Amazon, these are basic customer preferences, such as: choice, low prices, and fast.

There are three more core-attitudes, which I think have a big impact on the way innovation takes shape at Amazon. One is, to always ask the question ‘why not?’”… The biggest mistakes at Amazon come from not doing something, rather than taking the risk. And asking ‘why not?’ instead of ‘why should we do it?’ opens up a whole other universe of possibilities. Similarly, there are lot of difficult decisions that Amazon has had to make over the years, such as allowing reviews on their site. The vital question there was ’what is better for the customer?’ Last, but not least… ‘Be Stubborn on the vision, and flexible on the details.’ ” [3]

Andy Grove (Intel) made the following observations. “ ‘It is not something where you have a crystal ball to start with and you guess right,’ he emphasizes. ‘You constantly have to guide your efforts and add more ingredients – effort, money, people, undertakings, and alliances. It is partly anticipation, and partly turning that anticipation into a reality. When you have a three-to-four-year development cycle and factories that take three to four years to build and ramp up – and you add a year or two where you are making decisions about what the information technology world will want five years into the future, part of it is learned guesswork. You do your own guesswork – and then you work like hell to make your guesswork become reality… And you obviously need a whole industry to support some of this, so you turn to evangelism. And to make sure your evangelism carries weight, you invest in some [small start-up] companies to make sure you are taken seriously.” [4]

As the examples cited within this chapter clearly illustrate, innovation takes many forms. They include concept, product, process, practice and application. Each is succinctly fueled by the practice of “ruthless efficiency,” designed to improve the customer’s experience by increasing quality, efficiency and driving down costs. Most innovations were the direct result and consequence of a series of continuous improvements, sprinkled with several “Eureka!” moments. Leopold Mannes, co-developer of Kodak’s Kodachrome photographic film stated, “Invention is primarily the art of getting out of trouble.” [5] Fueled by necessity, the great leaders pioneered innovation to solve problems to leverage available opportunities, and to achieve a competitive advantage.

[1]  Meyers William, Conscience in a Cup of Coffee (U.S. News, October 31, 2005)

[2]  A One-on-One Interview with Bill Gates (CNN.com, March 1, 2002)

[3]  van Wyitck Vincent, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on Strategy & Innovation (not Kindle-related!) (Tech IT Easy, November 20, 2007)

[4]  Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)

[5]  Brayer Elizabeth, George Eastman. A Biography (University of Rochester Press, Rochester, NY, 2006) p. 224

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about the innovation and continuous improvement exhibited by the great American leaders through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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