Each summer, I love to catch up on reading.  Last week, while on vacation, I read The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, Spam Nation by Brian Krebs and Head of State by Andrew Marr.  All three are great reads.  Here is what I learned that applies to what we do every day.

The Innovators

Study Next Practices, not Best Practices – in every example of technology innovation, the new innovators, whether it was Gates or Jobs or Cerf or Berners-Lee, were improving on the latest invention.  No one studied how companies are using innovation and then decided how to innovate.  If they did, they would have never seen the future they helped create.  Lesson here is to always focus on what is new that will evolve an existing model.  Don’t wait for market-based applications of that same innovation or you’ll be perpetually behind.

Small Groups Innovate – small groups with very different mindsets do really well.  Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove were a great team that helped to create and build Intel.  Very different people.  Ballmer and Gates.  Wozniak and Jobs.  Dorsey and Williams.  No innovations noted in the book were created by large groups or big committees.  In fact, those were the exact groups that couldn’t believe new ideas would work.  Small, diverse teams that could challenge each other to think differently won.  The best innovators realize they need people smart in areas they are not smart in to succeed.

Vision, Programming & Execution are Key Parts of Innovative Teams – each area is intense.  Someone pushes the boundaries on what is possible.  Someone else can create the impossible and yet another person can make it all real.  Each role is critical to success.  Lesson here is that execution and vision are equally important.  One does not succeed without the other.

Sometimes the Answer is Right in Front of Us – Richard Stallman was the forefather of open source software, yet he never finished the kernel, which Linus Torvald did with his creation of Linux, ushering in a new era for software.  The last mile is hard, yet worth it.  Said another way, it often takes multiple people/teams in different places and often at different time points to build the innovation that matters to the market.

Transformational Innovation Occurs Over Time – we could connect PCs back in 1969, but it took time to build microprocessor chips, create software to run our machines, organize files in new ways and then put it all together.  Lesson here is that this is always happening.  The question is what pieces are being put together right now that will eventually transform how we work today?

Overall, it is super clear that the best examples of innovation occur via small teams, over time, who can see around the corner a bit faster than the rest of the world.  It is never about an individual. It’s always a team effort.

Spam Nation

Spammers are professionals – this book centered on Russia, in particular.  Spammers run companies, pay competitive salaries for engineering talent, offer strong benefits and act as stand-alone companies, often with a mix of legitimate and illegitmate businesses.  Lesson here is that when there is money to be made, talent will flow towards it, whether it is legal or illegal.  It’s hard to believe, but true.  It’s important that we look at security issues as they really exist, not via the lens we have in the US.  Yes, people are going to work every day to try to take our money and sell us goods that could be dangerous to us.

Canadian Pharmacies Selling in the US are Rarely in Canada – spammers are expert at hijacking sites, driving traffic to those sites and creating the illusion that you are buying prescription drugs from Canada.  They are often coming from other countries around the world made by suspect manufacturers.  If it sounds too good to be true, it normally is. Those who want to deceive us create illusions we can believe in.

Cybersecurity Affects All of Us – today, spammers can make a lot of money selling us illicit or suspect goods.  If they are slowed down in the future, which is starting to happen, they will simply turn to the next way to make money.  Like innovation itself, it is important that we understand what is at risk for us, personally and professionally.  Security will be a growing issue for us in the years ahead.

Head of State

This is a page-turner.  Written by Andrew Marr of The Financial Times based on a plot created by Lord Peter Chadlington, it is centered on a future EU Referendum to stay or not stay in the EU.  From there, crazy things occur.


Enjoy, Bob