Michael Schrage on Innovation, Collaboration, Tools, and Incentives

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, Customer Development, skmurphy

“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”

collabrationThis suggestion, mis-attributed to Emerson, has destroyed more startups than any other I can think of. It suggests to a  lone inventor his product will be instantly in demand. Michael Schrage, who has been studying innovation for more than two decades,  outlines a very different approach to successful innovation in three interviews. Schrage stresses the need for collaboration both within the startup (or new product team) and between the startup and its early customers.

Julie Anixter interviewed Michael Schrage on Nov-16-1999 for Tom Peters blog and asked “What or who prepared you for the work you currently do?” (emphasis and links added)

All of this work can really be traced back to when I was the first technology reporter for the Washington Post from l983-l987. I was covering Silicon Valley and Route 128, and doing the standard story about the entrepreneur with the great idea that launched the business.

Then I realized that the basic story pattern was, well, wrong.

I’ve always been interested in innovation…But what I saw—company after company—was that the innovation wasn’t just about creative individuals, but about creative relationships—and particularly collaborative relationships.

And collaborative relationships need shared space (any collaborative medium—cocktail napkin to computer modeling that serves as communication space that two or more people share). After my first book came out, “Shared Minds”, I realized that I had to focus on this … if we care about the future of collaboration we have to care about the future of shared space … there’s a real ecology there. Then prototypes became a fabulous vehicle for interacting within the process of innovation, within a shared space.

When I was a new reporter I was concerned with getting good quotes. Now, when I work with teams and consult, the gap between what people say and what they do is far more interesting. I became much more concerned about behaviors around prototyping, whether it’s designers around the screen or marketers around models; design behaviors take a big shift around prototypes.

Behavior changes matters more than technological change.

Michael Schrage on Innovation in Ubiquity, Volume 5, Issue 39, Dec-8-2004,

When I say “investing in innovation” I mean investing in models, prototypes, and simulations that become platforms for innovating with the invention — the idea itself — and innovating with the actual users and customers for such inventions. It’s not enough to come up with a great idea, you really have to focus on how that idea diffuses throughout the community.

Innovation is not what innovators do but what customers adopt.

For more on this concept see also My Customer, My Co-Innovator

Schrage was interviewed a second time in Ubiquity, Volume 7, Issue 8, in Feb-28-2006

When I wrote “Shared Minds,” my original book on collaboration, I was fascinated by the role that technology can play as a medium for collaboration.  I looked at all of these great collaborations and the role that tools and models and prototypes played in managing their creative collaborative interaction. But what I learned after doing that book and being brought in to do advisory work promoting collaboration within large organizations is that, as important as collaborative tools, techniques and technologies are, you have to have an environment where there are incentives to collaborate.

You have to have an internal economy where there are appropriate rewards and incentives for collaborating, and appropriate disincentives for not collaborating.

A revised version of “Shared Minds” was published in paperback as “No More Teams” in 1995. Schrage’s most recent book, Serious Play, while more than a decade old is still worth reading.

Related Blog Posts

Trackback from your site.

Comments (3)

Leave a comment

Quick Links

Bootstrappers Breakfast Link Startup Stages Clients In the News Upcoming Events Office Hours Button Newsletter SignUp