January 2013 | Innovation
Nano Tools for Leaders® are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes — with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.
Contributor: Ethan Mollick, PhD, The Edward B. and Shirley R. Shils Assistant Professor of Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Harness key sources of innovation outside your company.
Joy’s Law, named after Sun Microsystem’s founder Bill Joy, states that “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for somebody else.” Research on the sources of innovation has proven Joy’s Law correct. Many of the ideas and innovations that lead to breakthrough products and services start outside of companies, among users of products and informal communities of amateurs. In fields ranging from scientific instruments to commercial banking, from semiconductor manufacturing processes to plastic extrusion, researchers have found that key innovations were developed by users, not manufacturers.
There are a number of reasons why this is the case. The people who feel problems most acutely tend to be the ones who solve them (necessity is the mother of invention, after all). It is far more likely that users — whether they are surgeons performing novel procedures or long distance bikers looking to maintain an edge — are going to be more motivated to solve problems than researchers in an R&D department. This is compounded by the fact that, in an era of easy communication across the globe, Joy’s Law is more important than ever. Billions of people are online, sharing information and ideas, and the companies that figure out how to harness this amazing resource will have the key to the future of innovation.
How companies choose to tap into communities will depend on their goals and methods. But for every product and service category, they can find users and communities modifying, discussing, and innovating on existing projects.
Nano Tools for Leaders® was conceived and developed by Deb Giffen, MCC, Director of Innovative Learning Solutions at Wharton Executive Education. It is jointly sponsored by Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management, Wharton Professor of Management Michael Useem, Director. Nano Tools Academic Director, Professor Adam Grant.
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