The Choice for Innovators – Career Versus Life

Steve Jobs

“I don’t think of my life as a career. I do stuff. I respond to stuff. That’s not a career – it’s a life!” -Steve Jobs. This is what has inspired me to write this edition of my blog. Whether you consider the life of Steve Jobs or that of Bill Gates or even that of Beethoven, people who have been known to innovate and commercialize their innovations successfully, have made very different life choices compared to “regular” people. When I use the time commercialize here it is not from the narrow definition of money earned but from a wider perspective of making a difference to the lives of the consumer of such innovation. Life to these innovators was about living, of seeing a seed sprout and become a tree. Not for them the risk averse college degree, a secure job, a family and the humdrum of existence. They are constantly sensing and responding (yes responding and not reacting) to the context of life, not the conditions of their environment. They made their life choices early and thus escaped the trap of the difficulty of reinventing the course of their life as conditions changed. In most cases, they have had the distinction of dictating the conditions in their respective spheres.

The critical part that an innovator differentiates is between “Context” and “Condition”. While context is created, condition exists. The former demands “Response” while the latter necessitates “Reaction”. While the term Context is bandied about now as a fashionable one, is there an accurate understanding and its relevance; be it in an individual or an organization? It could make all the difference between succeeding and pretending at Innovation. Context and Response are the Yin and the Yang of the power to imagine a higher state of living and that could transcend anything such as technology,  medicine or trade.

Beethoven

Therein lies the secret of Innovation termed as “Risk”. It is all about the fear of unknown that sensitizes people’s action. People with the ability to respond, create mechanisms of response to successful conditions that arise from the risks that they take. People who react spend their entire life time creating mechanisms for failure when the conditions they have imagined occur as an event. There is a common element here; “imagination” that drives the thinking and action of both concerned. The imagination of the former takes into consideration the uncertainties of life as a given and operates in that sphere respecting the need to persevere with the outcomes as a process of evolution. There is no fear of personal failure. The latter try to interfere and circumvent nature and in the process create a false sense of security. Here there is only protection from personal liability.

It is critical that as societies struggle to create more innovators who will contribute positively to the cause of evolution, it is necessary to create the foundation for learning. With all the distractions in today’s environment, be it in educational institutions or business organizations, it is a huge challenge to find people who are prepared to think and act in the larger interests of a cause rather than the specific merits of their performance. One cannot blame when the very definition of performance is narrow and short sighted. People and Institutions are victims of the Conditions that they impose upon themselves with the choices they make.

It is a good thing that we have had a Bill Gates or a Beethoven or a Steve Jobs who like Mark Twain said “never let education interfere with the process of learning”. Learning happens when life is observed and it is this which needs to be borne in mind by societies, educational institutions and commercial enterprises when they loftily talk about promoting  innovation. How can we make observing life more real rather than absorb the “reality show” that we are conditioned to live in currently. How can we channel creativity once again to sense the context of life  rather than the condition of surreality that is imposed upon people to react to? This will  be a critical challenge to address, should innovation be a real priority anywhere; be it in Individuals, organizations, Educational Institutions and / or Societies.

Bill Gates

While I have been passionately advocating Innovation in organizations I have been asked several times whether it is necessary and if at all it is possible? As the preceding paragraphs explain, not all of us come to life with a perspective and choices that a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates or a Beethoven made. However, there is a possibility that our potential to learn can free us from  the trap of our conditions; if not individually, at least collectively  as an organization to address real innovation that impacts life.  This  hope and motive is what paves the path of excellence. Is there a better case to be made to pursue  innovation at an organizational level?

About Subbu Iyer

Subbu Iyer is an Innovation & Transformation Leader as with 28 years of serving customers globally. He is currently the Chief Designer & Transformer at Energizing Innovation, an enterprise that is being founded to facilitate continuous growth in enterprises and as a consequence create societal wealth. The Radical Shift that this enterprise intends to employ is focusing on the Potential rather than the Performance of a business. He has been a serial entrepreneur and an intrapreneur in his past life, having founded Nihilent Technologies and Nandaki Systems besides being associated in senior leadership roles with firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Cambridge Technology Partners, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies and Steria.
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12 Responses to The Choice for Innovators – Career Versus Life

  1. Palaniappan says:

    I am wondering what triggers the fire in the mind of those innovators. Is it environment ? is it intuition ? is it a spark ? Probable they all are key factors. Young minds have to be inspired to dream, believe and bubble with ideas and action. This is what I realized after seeing the movie Social Network.
    Thanks for such a stimulating topic.

    • Subbu Iyer says:

      Persistence, Determination, Hard-Work and focus are the four key characteristics of such people that stokes the fire within them constantly. It is fundamentally who they are. This is the moot point of this piece. The fire that burns in them produces the spark. The fire is stoked and cultivated by them against the odds that life throws at them. It is important to understand that Innovation is not an accident either in an individual or an organization. This is referred to in one of my previous editions of the blog. These four characteristics need to be cultivated as part of an organizational culture (automatically adopted by individuals therein) to innovate continuously and concurrent to business as usual. All around us, nature presents us with the most astonishing of glories to be inspired by. It is just that we are not conscious to it. Continuously energizing oneself or an organization from the unconscious to the sub-conscious to the conscious state results in inspiration. This purely depends on an individual and it needs to be a practiced effort. Thanks for your comments and encouragement.

  2. Atul says:

    Inspiring! Thanks Subbu!

  3. monceabraham says:

    What an inspiring article to read… !

    “It is all about the fear of unknown that sensitizes people’s action. People with the ability to respond, create mechanisms of response to successful conditions that arise from the risks that they take. People who react spend their entire life time creating mechanisms for failure when the conditions they have imagined occur as an event.

    There is a common element here; “imagination” that drives the thinking and action of both concerned.

    The imagination of the former takes into consideration the uncertainties of life as a given and operates in that sphere respecting the need to persevere with the outcomes as a process of evolution. There is no fear of personal failure. The latter try to interfere and circumvent nature and in the process create a false sense of security. Here there is only protection from personal liability.”

    Learning happens when life is observed… Thanks for sharing this Subbu, and look forward to more…

    Best, Monce

  4. Hello Subbu,

    I saw this article because of a link shared by Monce. You have done it well. All the best.

    The real innovator in “Apple computers” (now only “Apple”) was not Steve Jobs, but Steve Wozniak. The one who really made the first ever personal computer Apple 1 and later Apple 2, the product which made them and many other employees of apple millionaires.

    I guess, that 80% of computer savvy people will immediately recognize Steve Jobs if you show them his picture. But I don’t think even 10% will do so with Woz.

    Unfortunately that is how the world works.

    • Subbu Iyer says:

      Dear Manulal

      Thank you for taking the time for reading my blog and coming back with your comments on it.

      May I point out to you that there is a critical difference between Invention, Innovation and Improvisation. To understand this better and also illustrate my point better, the following URL might help:
      http://t.co/EqAlJow
      Steve Wozniak might have Invented the product but Steve Jobs was responsible for Innovation. Innovation is essentially the process that encapsulates the Moment of Truth (When Customer Accesses a Product / Process / Service and decides to Try It / Buy IT) known as Customer Experience and Customer Loyalty represented by Branding, Positioning, Marketing and Selling. Invention without Innovation is nothing.
      Thank you for your encouragement. I would be grateful for the critique as it helps all of us to clarify and understand the subject better.
      Take Care…

      • monceabraham says:

        Dear Subbu,

        Thanks for sharing the link for the GPS special on Innovation… Sure is insightful when we try to extrapolate the implications for innovation in a country like India.

        Coming back to Steve Jobs, there is an interesting book out there “iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business” (link: http://www.amazon.com/iCon-Steve-Jobs-Greatest-Business/dp/0471720836)

        p.s.: Had read this a couple of years back and found it to be a fab read about Job’s transition from Apple to NeXT to Pixar, and then back to Apple.

        Best, Monce

      • Dear Subbu,

        Thank you for the link. It was very informative.

        I completely agree with you in that Jobs is an innovator. In fact I am typing this comment using a product realized only because of the innovative thinking of Jobs. The ipad2.

        But I admire Woz more because of his genius and simplicity and because of the fact that we share a common interest, engineering. He left “apple” saying he can never be a manager but always an engineer.

        If it was not for Woz, there would have been only a few Apple employees as millionaires. But Woz distributed some of his shares among the employees of Apple (the initial lot of course) and when they went public, all of them became millionaires overnight.

        My personal liking of Woz might have biased my first comment.

        But, re designing a computer which used to be of the size of a room to something manageable on a table is also an innovation IMHO.

        Manulal.

  5. Subbu Iyer says:

    Thanks Atul and Monce…essentially I write only what I believe in and am able to practice. This has also been my style of leadership. I have never expected anyone in the teams that I have worked to do anything I personally could not do. However, I have never stopped learning if another person could do it better. The point I am making is that, learning is born out of a basic curiosity…to understand, be aware , become competent and aim for excellence. I also use this as the scale of maturity – Innocence, Awareness, Understanding, Definition, Competence and Excellence; to figure out where I am in that journey for continuous improvement.

  6. Subbu Iyer says:

    Thanks Monce. I have read the book too. It is indeed very fascinating…his whole life.

    Manu, it is interesting you bring up the topic about liking Woz. In fact, the very reason IP creation must become an institutionalized process is because you need more than one Archimedes and Wozniak in this world today and many more Steve Jobs to persist and perform. If you get a chance, you should read Charles Fine (one of my all time favorite management authors) who wrote about the difference between fireflies and sea turtles. The former lives a charmed life for 22 minutes while the latter battles through life for 220 years. It would be good to see whether Apple can become like an IBM (just completing 100 years and still going strong) or a Shell and Matsushita (300 years). The true legacy of both Inventors and Innovators is in how they provide the means for an organization to improvise and ‘Thrive Not just Survive’ long. Best regards, Subbu

  7. Krishna says:

    Hi Subbu,
    Very inspiring blog.
    Just curious to know your thoughts on how to transform people from ‘just doing jobs’ type to ‘innovators’. I guess, this is one major struggle that many of us go through in our jobs, especially in BPO industry, which is high on employment of manpower and seemingly very low on innovation…
    Thanks… Krishna

    • Subbu Iyer says:

      Hello Krishna,
      First of all, apologies for a delayed response. Thanks for your kind words. In my opinion, the answer to your question lies in a more fundamental shift in the way in which the Indian society operates today. Until a few years ago, there was a mad rush for parents to force their children to become doctors and engineers. The perceptible difference today is a choice of larger professions. However, the common theme is the earning potential of these professions, not the potential of the individual in question. Hence, when most people land up in life involuntarily at various places, how is it far to expect them to express their heart and soul? As a society, we need to evolve from just looking at life from an economic dimension and help enable individuals to grow emotionally, personally and only then professionally. Of course, that may work for future generations. But for the here and now, organizations will have to address as part of their Human Capital Management solutions these three dimensions of an individual; the Emotional, Personal and Professional to support the growth of the individual concurrent to the organizational growth. Please find a link here to an abstract on the subject of Human Capital Management authored by me that addresses your question from an business enterprise perspective: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B4LDqlCzTfzbMWRlZjIyNmItN2VlOS00Yjc2LWJjZWItZWYzNzlkZGQ1YjJh&authkey=COSvgZMF&hl=en_US&authkey=COSvgZMF

      Hope this helps.

      Best regards,
      Subbu

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