New ideas are often the combination of ideas from the past. It is extremely rare to uncover a truly new idea. We hear this over and over again, but how often do we believe it? Electric cars were developed over 100 years ago. Smartphones are the amalgamation of previous technology. With tidal waves of information surrounding us every day, it is tough to realize most products are not really new.
I just re-read Peter Drucker’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship and it reminded me that most new ideas are not really new. It’s been many years since I read this great book and it is amazing how visionary Drucker was. Peter Drucker was truly the father of modern business. His writings from decades ago still provide powerful insights to guide modern business leaders.
The Crystal Ball
Drucker predicted the growth of robotics and the decline of blue-collar work. All this written in 1985, when only a few firms used robots and no one saw the rise of the “knowledge worker” (except Drucker, since he coined the phrase). In addition, Drucker pointed out how the myth of high-tech was imaginary. High-tech firms are media darlings but typically fail and are not able to drive innovation success to the market. The successes were (are) few and far between – this was over 30 years ago and we still chase the myth.
In addition, Drucker wrote how the misconception that large firms cannot innovate is wrong. Most innovation (i.e., entrepreneurial mindset) occurs within large organizations. Drucker pointed out that for innovation success, leaders of these large firms must separate the ongoing business from the new venture. Assigning unrealistic goals which prohibit initial growth is a sure sign for failure. It is critical to allow the new growing business to be free of organizational processes and constraints (think of skunkworks).
Focus on the Basics
The key learning from Drucker is to focus on the basics; blocking and tackling, and foundational business elements; not fads or quick fixes. There is no magic formula to entrepreneurial success and innovation, it happens through hard work. Analyzing markets and understanding where opportunities exist is the key. Drucker emphasized the importance of going out and talking to potential customers and understanding needs, in addition, to testing and experimenting to improve the probabilities of success (sorry all you Lean Startup folks, this is not new – advertising firms were doing A/B testing almost 100 years ago). Most telling is the importance of systematic innovation – the deliberate, systematic method to develop purposeful innovation. Innovation does not happen serendipitously, it happens from hard work.
Unfortunately the majority of business programs within most universities still ignore Drucker. I strongly recommend reading all his works. Drucker was so far ahead of his time; it is rare to find someone like him, who also provided a large amount of great works. Industry leaders like Jack Welch regularly went to Drucker for guidance.
Read the new stuff from today’s leading business scholars and thought leaders, but don’t forget most foundational theories were developed previously. Drucker’s works are the most time worthy and relevant for any business professional. It is critical to be flexible and take advantage of new opportunities, reinvent the organization, and avoid being complacent. Read Drucker if you are starting a new business or need to reignite your current organization.