I am privileged to have known, and to know, many brilliant scientists, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, teachers…professionals across of a wide range of disciplines, and every single one of them has had to work really hard to achieve their status. Behind every success and accolade are hours of passionate pursuit, with plenty of failures and efforts that just fizzled out; yet, to casual observers, these talented people seem to have it easy.
Similarly, we collectively take technological breakthroughs for granted. While our society’s inventors have brought us an untold number of conveniences and pleasures, the statistics behind innovation and invention are stark and grim. The widely-quoted statistic is that on average, each commercial success begins with at least 3,000 raw articulated ideas. These 3,000 ideas on average get whittled down to about 300 formal “disclosures,” which companies deem worthwhile for widespread internal consideration. The process then leads to approximately 100 patents, out of which one may succeed brilliantly and may bring to us ordinary people something we hadn’t dreamt of before.
While these numbers are already sobering they do not begin to tell the stories about generating the raw-but-articulable ideas themselves – stories of self-selection and hallway chats, uncounted brainstorms never articulated – nor the stories of articulated ideas going forward – the angst that underlies decisions to disclose, the time spent on experimenting, writing, rewriting, and filing patents. From that patent to that commercial success there is another book of stories about trials, errors, taking risks, balancing acts, and myriads of other human toils. Oh, and there is the little matter of money invested along the way, somewhere between a few million to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Most business organizations would claim that they have the best “new business development” (NBD) model to help steer them toward that one successful product that would eventually bring them years of profit. In reality, studies have shown that companies that follow their own beloved models do not on average do better, or worse, than companies that don’t have any NBD model. In addition, many self-appointed “experts” claim that “most NBD efforts succeed,” which is true if you compare the number of successful NBDs against the number of those patents predisposed to succeed, but based on the statistics I cite above, most efforts fail. From the perspective of creativity, I have always preferred erring on the side of allowing failures, but only if we can learn from them.
Monty Python’s John Cleese contrasts the learning-compensable failures of the guided missile (“good” failures) with rock-bottom-stupid failures such as “spelling ‘rabbit’ with three m’s.” In the NBD process, a key to “good” failures is having them in the early stages where they cost less than when they occur later. Once a product is launched, failure can lead to bankruptcy.
As a complement to “having failures in early stage,” a component to successfully projecting out the product is placing the “right” people in the “fuzzy front end” stages of NBD. One article describes models for these right people, or Rainmakers, based on Myers-Briggs personality types. Of the Myers-Briggs dimensions Introvert-Extrovert, Intuition-Sensing, Thinking-Feeling, and Perceiving-Judging, the authors correlate successful Rainmakers with dominant intuition and thinking, addressing the simultaneous need for creative instincts (intuition) and disciplined pushing (thinking) in the NBD process. The authors claim that NBD efforts driven by individuals scoring in the top third of Rainmakers enjoy financial success that is a factor of 95 better than NBD efforts driven by individuals scoring in the bottom third of Rainmakers.
In other words, putting the “right” people on your team is profoundly important for finding that sweet success. (Sound familiar) Of course this does not mean that people manifesting other Myers-Briggs personality dimensions have no place in the NBD model; much depends on tasks and contexts. Many individuals who are skeptical of intuition/creativity do, by using impeccable discipline in planning and executing sequential steps, contribute profoundly to getting a new product launched.
Certainly identifying talents and skills is important, but it is just as important to ensure that there is a good fit between a job and the person performing the job. And this should hold true whether it’s about new business development or other business operations.
I will be off to visit my son and hopefully get in some skiing with my family. Until Jan. 26, Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.
Direct Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: Dr. Yang has a PhD in Management from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Wharton for a number of years, and consulted for small groups and small organizations and on cross-cultural issues. Her professional worldview comprises three pillars: 1. All organizations are social systems in which elements are inter-related. 2. To improve organizations, the focus should be on the positive dimensions on which to build. This philosophical foundation is Appreciative Inquiry. 3. Yang subscribes to the methodological perspective that she is part of the instrument from which to gain quality data from respondents, and with which to compare and contrast with others’ realities.