Thursday, January 9, 2020

Notes on Innovation (January 2020)

Tucked away on the top shelf of my study is
my battered (mostly) high school sci-fi collection
1. Reading science fiction is an effective way for entrepreneurs to reframe their perspectives on technology and society.

"Set aside the aliens and the spaceships," the Economist says, "and much contemporary science fiction is concerned with themes such as the impact of artificial intelligence, the danger of ecological collapse, the misuse of corporate power and the legacy of imperialism."

American sci-fi authors are unafraid to tackle subjects such as gender politics, while Chinese authors provide a window into the cultural dynamics of that nation.  Microsoft, Google, and Apple have all employed sci-fi writers as consultants to stretch the thinking of their executives.

If you want to get started, here's Amazon's 100 sci-fi and fantasy books to read in a lifetime.  If this list seems overwhelming, start with this recent profile in The New Yorker, "How William Gibson Keeps His Science Fiction Real."

2. Dan Wang is a technology analyst with Gavekal who maintains a personal blog and writes a superb year-end letter.

His 2019 edition tackles the question of China's technology efforts, which look spectacular from certain perspectives but about which he is unimpressed.  Yes, China leads on mobile payments and infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail, but "much of China's technology stack is built on American components, especially semiconductors.  Failure to develop more foundational technologies," Wang writes, "has meant that the US has had an at-will ability to kneecap major firms."

Discussions that focus on speculative Chinese leadership in AI, quantum computing, and biotech--initiatives which remain more "science projects than real, commercial industries"--distract from the country's weakness in established technologies, Wang concludes.

However, where China may lag in product innovation, it is surging ahead in process innovation.  China's domination of manufacturing allows it to capture "marginal process knowledge" which will put the nation in "a better place to develop the next technological advancements."

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Everything I Need to Know About Innovation I Learned from Hamilton

Suppose you raised $12.5 million to launch a start-up that returned 600 percent to investors in less than 24 months. Even better, your start-up was forecast to gross $1 billion in its first decade—not including a pipeline full of product spinoffs.

Those are the impressive results generated by Hamilton, a hip-hop musical that became a windfall for its investors and redefined Broadway for the twenty-first century.

Hamiltons creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a textbook example of economist Joseph Schumpeter’s classic entrepreneur, an individual who brings a novel combination (or innovation) to market and creates new customers where none existed before.

Hamilton’s new customers are obvious. People who had never been to Broadway bought tickets for the show. America’s ambassador to the United Nations invited the entire UN Security Council to a performance. The Rockefeller Foundation helped introduce twenty thousand New York City eleventh graders from low-income families to Broadway.

What makes Hamilton especially useful to entrepreneurs, however, is that it’s also a clinic on launching innovation.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

"Innovation on Tap: The Movie", Podcasts, and Guest Posts

Below is a collection of excerpts, guest posts, reviews, videos, podcasts, and interviews related to Innovation on Tap, which was published in November 2019 and can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Greenleaf Book Group, and Indiebound.  The book is available in hardcover, Kindle, and Audible.

Here's a short video introduction:

In the months before publication, I posted several short excerpts from the book, including Buddy Bolden and the birth of jazz, Jason Jacobs and the growth of RunkeeperJean Brownhill and the launch of Sweeten, Elizabeth Arden and "the right to be beautiful," GM's Alfred Sloan (the most successful American entrepreneur ever?), and Brent Grinna and Evertrue.

Thanks to Laura AsialaPyxera Global posted a review and parts of the Introduction from Innovation on Tap. Laura adds, "When I read about the challenges faced by these pioneers, I find myself agreeing with Schultz: there has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur, which is a good thing, because we need many of them."

Chapter 19, which features Brenna Berman and smart cities, appeared on the CityTech Collaborative website.  Bermans explains how large cities employ data to improve the delivery of services, and how entrepreneurs in giant organizations must find ways to navigate complex ecosystems in order to deliver high-impact innovation.  A fun and good read--and thank you to Brenna.

Guest Posts

Here's my guest post for CEOBlogNation, The Things I Learned About Successful Entrepreneurs from Studying Three Centuries of History.  It's a long title for a short post that concludes, among other things, that "community is an entrepreneur's superpower."

From barbershop to coffeeshop, Ray Oldenburg's third places contribute in important ways to an entrepreneur's community.  Here's a guest post I wrote for SmartHustle: "Healthy third places are marked by an ability to unite a community, flatten rank, assimilate newcomers, spread information, and enhance a person's sense of belonging.  They can become socially powerful in their own right--a reason that British authorities frowned up coffeehouses in colonial America."

AllBusiness featured Where Do Successful Entrepreneurs Get Their Brilliant New Ideas From?, in which I managed to fit six entrepreneurs from the book into 1,000 words. (I'm learning.)

I also wrote 3 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Slow Things Down for Greater Success, a post featured on  Addicted2Success.  "As an entrepreneur, wisdom normally accumulates one day at a time.  But if you could hack this pace, one-day-of-experience for one-day-of-work, you might be able to slow the world down even as it accelerates."

Stephen Tyng Mather is one of the early heroes of sustainability and one of my favorite chapters in Innovation on Tap. Mather appears in a guest post thanks to the good folks at the Gettysburg Foundation.


In November 2019, Innovation on Tap was nominated to the Porchlight longlist in the category of Innovation and Creativity.  Gabbi Cisneros wrote a generous review:

Eric B. Schultz crafts a lively history of famous entrepreneurs from the late 1700s to 2015. Rather than placing them on a pedestal, the author places them on a barstool. The atmosphere of a barroom full of entrepreneurs is a creative choice that humanizes the sometimes flat characters who are otherwise only described as "the inventor of…”. Additionally, this setting highlights other key points that the author makes about entrepreneurship: “The stronger the community the greater the chances for success" and “no single story is as powerful as the sum of all the stories." Schultz chronicles each entrepreneur’s coming-of-age and the many obstacles they faced and ultimately overcame (to various degrees). Entrepreneurs of today can identify with patenting issues, racism, sexism, and debt, which have been hurdles across time: "[Eli] Whitney never grew rich on his invention," "William Grimes was born a slave and fought bravely throughout his life for freedom and economic independence," "[Elizabeth] Arden appealed to consumers by emphasizing the 'New Woman' — who was anything but traditional." Additionally fascinating is the progression of entrepreneurial focuses which divide each section: Mechanization, Mass Production, Consumerism, Sustainability, and Digitization, and though it's exciting to understand these changes in priority and capacity, it's most incredible to appreciate the unrelenting drive that entrepreneurs grow to possess, no matter their background or invention.

The Midwest Book Review wrote: "A unique storytelling approach to surveying and presenting insights into entrepreneurial success, "Innovation on Tap" . . . is an inherently fascinating, thoughtful and thought-provoking read from cover to cover. While unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of business students, aspiring entrepreneurs, corporate executives, business managers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Innovation on Tap" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99)."

Foreword Reviews wrote a critique here: "Built upon strong research and fun to read, Innovation on Tap gives today's innovators the wisdom and gumption they need to overcome the odds."  


Here's my first podcast discussing "Innovation on Tap."  Many thanks to host Kevin Craine at Everyday MBA. Here's a podcast I did with James Taylor of The Creative Life.  It runs about 35 minutes and allows me to talk about the book and Mekko charts.  And here's a fun podcast that I did with Gresh Harkless at "IAMCEO." 

The book is “the story of innovation in America told through the eyes of 25 entrepreneurs, from Eli Whitney to Lin-Manuel Miranda.” What do you think all these entrepreneurs have in common across history, location and sector? 
First, it’s community. They all succeeded because of community, and when they were good at finding, building, nurturing, leveraging community, they did better. The second theme is: the business model is critical. When we talk about entrepreneurs, we say they need to have perseverance, grit, courage; what they need is a good business model. If you have a good business model, and you’ve been thoughtful about it, and you can pivot quickly when you need to, then it covers up an awful lot of sins.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Tweets for Tweets: My Favorite Bird Photos of 2019

A Great Horned Owl.  Top of the food chain.  Good for
marketing blog posts.
In February 2016, our book club read The Big Year. It's the story of three men who, in 1998, competed to establish a North American birding record.  One succeeded, counting 748 species.*

Until that book settled in my Kindle, I had no idea that there was a thing called "birding," or that there was an entire world of hikers, world travelers, citizen scientists, ornithologists, and conservationists who spent much of their waking time watching and studying birds.

For me, this activity was an epiphany--who else knew?  It turns out, 50 million Americans plan an outing to observe birds every year.

But if birding was epiphany, it would also turn out to be escape.  In early 2016, I needed to get away from my screens in the worst way, far from our new administration and the damage it was inflicting on the American democratic experiment.  My Facebook feed was turning toxic, and Twitter went from being noise to a black hole of contempt sucking energy and goodwill out of our nation.

In the process, I traded tweets for tweets, heading into the woods with my Sibley bird book, camera, ebird app, and binoculars, sometimes with an experienced guide from Mass Audubon. It was like stepping inside a huge video game (with fresh air) where I needed to focus, observe, and, in the words of Monty Python, prepare for something completely different.

Flash ahead to December 2019.  I now have 286 species on my life list.  (There are people who count nearly that many different birds every few months, but I persist.)  More to the point, I now know what a life list is.  The Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary and Plum Island have become second homes and places of refuge.  And every so often, by being patient and lucky, I'll take a picture I like of a bird I like.

Here, then, in an ongoing trade of tweets for tweets, are my favorites photos from 2019:

This is an Egret that I photographed early in the morning with my friend Rebecca
for one of her excellent "running with" birding articles.

These two Pileated Woodpeckers met me on our driveway as I returned home from a run.  They were nice enough to
stick around while I dashed inside to get my camera.

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Kinder, Gentler Holiday: Innovating Christmas in America

Thomas Nast's famous "Merry Old Santa
Claus" from the January 1, 1881 edition
of Harper's Weekly 
This story of John Pintard and his innovation of the Christmas season is a deleted chapter from the final draft of "Innovation on Tap," an attempt to keep the book to a readable length.  Given the season, however, it seems a good time to launch this tale of social engineering--a type of innovation that almost always fails.  But not this time . . .

Between 1790 and 1840, the combined population of New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston grew from 94,000 to 626,000 residents.  An antiquated colonial watch system, overwhelmed by disorder and crime, gradually gave way in the 1830s to the first police forces, often overwhelmed by corruption and incompetence.  
Politics, religion, immigration, and race were all divisive issues.  A sudden financial panic could swell the numbers of unemployed.  Urban poverty and vagrancy grew.  The threat of violence hung in the air.  Mob activity was seen by many as a valid way to deliver justice when the law dawdled or failed. 
“A man ought to fear God, and mind his business,” congressman Reuben Davis wrote, summing up one version of the American credo.  “He should be respectful and courteous to all women; he should love his friends and hate his enemies.  He should eat when he was hungry, drink when he was thirsty, dance when he was merry, vote for the candidate he liked best, and knock down any man who questioned his right to these privileges.[1]  Violence, Davis believed, was simply part of how an American protected his freedoms. 
Likewise, when Frenchman Michel Chevalier toured the country in 1839, he noted that citizens gathered in the morning to share the news of hangings and floggings—“and then go on to the price of cotton and coffee.”  There was little difference North or South, East or West.  “A riot which in France would put a stop to business,” he wrote, “prevents no one here from going to the Exchange, speculating, turning over a dollar and making money.”[2]
For wealthy New Yorkers such as John Pintard (1759-1844) and his friends, escape from these terrifying moments of “mobocracy” meant heading north, away from the old, congested Dutch settlement at the southern tip of Manhattan to the pastoral areas of what are now the city’s numbered streets.  Even this exodus proved inadequate in the face of ceaseless population growth.
In the years following the Revolution, a kinder, gentler city seemed out of reach.