Eureka. The New Corporate MBA

Dan Pontefract

Dan Pontefract is author of The Purpose Effect and Flat Army and is Chief Envisioner at TELUS.

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Dan Pontefract demonstrates how true partnership between business and academia can create learning opportunities that benefit an organisation, its employees and the academic institution itself.

Innovation is an interesting concept. For many people it presupposes a “aha” or “eureka” moment in order for something new to have been created.

Others (wrongly) pronounce ad nauseam that innovation is a behaviour selectively developed and held by the likes of mainstream media stars such as Steve Jobs, Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg.

“They’re so innovative,” you read over and over again as if there was not a team of learned brains surrounding them to assist their final and often collaborative efforts. Of course there was the innovation disruption (eruption, one might argue) sparring match between Clayton Christensen and Jill Lepore in the summer of 2014 that proved the debate is far from being settled (Lepore queried Christensen’s celebrated theory of “disruptive innovation”).

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of innovation. Perhaps, in part, it is due to my personal fascination with Thomas Edison.

Now there was an innovator. His list of inventions was as long as the river Nile. Interestingly, if this electromechanician – what Edison was originally called – were alive today, he would be the first to tell you his inventions were a team effort, not anything singular and certainly the polar opposite of any eureka-like moment.

Edison’s Newark, New Jersey, Menlo Park working lab in the 1870s and 1880s reflected his appreciation for different-minded individuals working collaboratively on new, inventive technologies. His team of inventors was a working lab of innovation, building upon previous learning and past experiences.

Henry Ford — famed creator of the Model T car — further debunked the fallacies of the single inventor or the eureka moment. He once said: “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work. Had I worked 50 or 10 or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it’s inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the greatest forward steps of mankind is the worst kind of nonsense”.

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