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Seans Cannes safari: Why your organisation will either never innovate, ideate or implement


Seans Cannes safari: Why your organisation will either never innovate, ideate or implement


The speaker lineup at the 58th annual Cannes is incredible. But we tend to be a picky bunch, and post-lecture someone always could've done it better. Thus far the only universally lauded speaker has been Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Outliers: The Story of Success, among others, and staff writer with the New Yorker.

He made a compelling argument for the foolishness of 'first-mover advantage' and the glory given to the inventor over the implementer, saying that value is usually found far down the chain from the inventor. He pointed to Steve Jobs early moves with Apple and Xerox PARC. Saying in his emphatic style that Xerox PARC gave a bunch of PHDs unlimited time, budget and palatial offices to imagine the future of work resulting in the invention of many of the tools we still use in some form or another now. But no time-pressure. And when it came time to monetise its inventions, it was targeting the elite and building a profit margin to suit.

For the 24 year-old running a startup who they invited to tour the facility, there was time-pressure. His second generation computer didn't look like it would be much better than his first, and when he saw the GUI (graphical user interface – what took over from the old command line) Xerox PARC had developed, he told his engineers to scrap their work and begin again designing a computer with a GUI. He also designed it with economy in mind, and this Gladwell claims, is key: mass strategy is more profitable than elite strategy.

"This is a man who has made a career out of being last," said Gladwell. "He was way late on the MP3 player, the smartphone, the tablet."

He then went on to argue that cultures are either set up to encourage philosophical ideation, innovation or implementation, but never optimised for any more than one of these to occur. Drawing on geopolitics and history, he argued that Soviet Russia had the luxury of putting a group of thinkers at the centre of its military complex, to ponder the future of war. Whereas the US is set up to take thoughts and apply innovation and commercial pressure around their refinement.

But neither had the pressure or desperation to implement. Gladwell chooses Israel as his example of the implementer, saying that it 'profited' from the Soviet's thinking and American's refinement of the ground-to-air ballistic missile.

He argues that organisations suffer from the same cultural veins, that it's best to be the implementer.

The only negative comment heard about Gladwell? "He makes me feel dumb."

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