Gladwell Says "Tweakers" Rule

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In a business landscape that seemingly puts a premium on originality, it's the borrowers and followers -- those who tweak the ideas -- that thrive.

That was the message best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell hammered home in a thought-provoking keynote address at PMI® Global Congress 2011 -- North America.

Mr. Gladwell outlined three types of organizational cultures:

1.    Intellectual ones come up with big ideas
2.    Innovative ones are entrepreneurial and risk-taking
3.    Borrower cultures nimbly combine the traits of the first two  

Paradoxically, the most successful organizations come behind the first wave of originality, adapting and improving the concept.

Before Apple became an icon of global innovation, for example, Steve Jobs borrowed and implemented ideas from Xerox to come up with the venerated mouse.

Tweakers and followers may not be the first to market, but they benefit from seeing how new technology evolves before they make their own market commitments.  "That kind of insight is only the kind of insight that comes to the one that follows," Mr. Gladwell said.

Just think of the search engine showdown between AltaVista and Google. (I think we all know how that one turned out.)

Of course, sometimes an organization's culture is dictated by its circumstances. In its early days, Apple had no choice but to borrow, follow and be nimble. It was "desperate," Mr. Gladwell said: It simply didn't have the staff or money to be as innovative as its wealthy counterparts.

"Resources can stand in the way of that hunger, of making a big difference in the marketplace," Mr. Gladwell said.
Organizations can change their culture of innovation -- if they have the courage and ability to admit they're doing something wrong. And that's a characteristic Mr. Gladwell classified as "insanely hard to find" in leaders. He added that almost any professional can become a practical real-world innovator, but only if that person has permission from management.

Innovation is a phenomenon of the masses, not of the elite, he said. "Tweakers" are the ones sparking the greatest advances, exponentially raising the power of existing technology by making small changes.

Read more posts from congress.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: October 24, 2011 07:44 PM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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Very thought provoking ideas. I recall that Microsoft, like Apple, also supposedly "tweaked" existing ideas and concepts to launch MS-DOS and subsequently their original Windows product in the 1980s.

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