I spent last night at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale celebrating the contributions of Arizona technology companies to philanthropic endeavors. It was a great event… with a keynote by Steve Ballmer of Microsoft…
Even given that rarefied company, I have to say the highlight of the evening was Governor Napolitano's speech in which she discussed many of the issues covered at the national governor's meetings last week.
I'm happy to say that our govenor gets it. She gets that the economy of the 21st century will be very different from that of the 20th. She gets that manufacturing has given way to innovation. That the long tail will reduce the number of world dominating products in any category – but specifically in technology – and that we must prepare our children for a world where innovation and the ability to invent are critical tools.
So why am I blogging about this? Because I see the challenge in corporate culture on a daily basis. It may be in the form of peers who see only risk in selecting vendors who are not in the "magic quadrant", to product managers who seek only to protect an existing market position and avoid the "risk" of attempting to enter a new market.
At the end of the day… if we really get serious about it… innovation is the ability to take tactical and strategic risk. It is about the ability to see the opportunity and commit to finding a way to realize it.
The challenge is creating educational and corporate cultures which encourage and reward risk taking. Which realize that taking risk in considered ways has no downside… because what we learn from the failure is often more valuable that what we would have realized had we been correct. Certainly more valuable than failing to risk.
Today we fire employees who risk and fail. Large companies encourage and reward big projects – but big projects require low risk because there is too much at stake. They actively discourage manageable risk taking because they fail to see (understand) the incremental effect of 100's of well taken risks.
We base our education system on preparing students to pass standardized tests – encouraging them to supply the "right" answer, instead of critically assessing the information.
I won't pretend to have all the answers… but I'm pretty sure we've got to get around the idea that winning is synonymous with never getting it wrong.