Sunday, April 28, 2019

Innovators have a beginner's mindset

This post is in continuation to my post on 'My Talk on Innovation'. As i promised, i am double-clicking on some aspects that i shared in my talk to awesome internship batch at my organization.

The Andy Grove story:
I think i read this story a while back in Andy Grove's book:  Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company and i have quoted this quite a few times.

Let me do it one more time here:

Years ago, the original product of Intel was D-RAM which is basically memory for computers and they had just started to invent the micro-processor. They had a real business problem, the Japanese were killing them in the D-RAM market, just destroying their market share.

So Andy Grove and Robert Noyce were at the office late one night and they were talking to each other.
  • Andy says to Robert: Wow we got a problem!
  • Robert says we sure do.
  • Andy asks- If Board says we would get the new guys to solve this problem, what would the new guys do.
  • Robert says Oh that’s easy, they will get us out of the D-RAM business.
  • So Andy Grove says, Yes why don't we do that before these other guys get in.
What happened next is history. Intel shunned the D-RAM business and got into microprocessor business, leading to one of the most outstanding business turnarounds.

To me, Andy’s question about “what would new guys do” is quite profound because it reflects that Andy was more willing to be a beginner again. Here is what i learn about being a beginner from this inspiriting story:

1. One can think like a beginner at any stage of one's life:
Andy was almost in his mid-life and at the top of the corporate ladder when he and Robert took the call to cannibalize Intel's existing business and start a new one. It was not just the business model change, it was also the change in product category, competitors, suppliers and almost about starting a new company. He could have chosen to rest on his laurels but the fact that he could think like a beginner at that stage and stature, should be a proof enough that being like a beginner is a mindset that could be achieved at any stage and age.

2. Being a beginner is a default state for human beings:
Human beings are not born experts, our default state is that of a beginner. We cover the journey of being an expert from beginner by flexing our learning muscles, building skills and working hard. when Andy decided to go the microprocessor way, there was a huge learning curve ahead of him. He embraced it fully like a beginner and without any pretenses about his skills and was willing to learn from people junior from his, took on reading books and worked through with a solid learning agenda.

3. Beginners are not too attached to their outputs, past achievements:
The fact that Andy could let go of something that he had built so passionately tells that he was pragmatic about things. He wasn't overly attached with what he had achieved and that helped him let go of it and build something even bigger. He could have chosen to rest on his own laurels but he took the hard path, which was also right for the situation Intel was in.

In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In a expert's mind, there are only a few. Innovators, generally, are experts at divergent thinking. They think of many ideas before zeroing in on the ones that would have the biggest bang for the buck. It's not to say that the experts cannot be the innovators but right mix, more often, is an expert with beginner's mind.

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