Monday, June 3, 2019

Innovators embrace diversity in teams

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.

In the corporate folklore, there are very few stories that are as pronounced as that of how Apple started. A lot has already been written about so I would safely quote parts of Wikipedia as a quick refresher:

Apple Computer Company was founded on April 1, 1976, by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne.The company's first product is the Apple I, a computer designed and hand-built entirely by Wozniak, Apple Computer, Inc. was incorporated on January 3, 1977, without Wayne, who had left and sold his share of the company back to Jobs and Wozniak for $800 only twelve days after having co-founded Apple.

I would simply pass off the last sentence in the above excerpt by calling Ronald Wayne as plain unlucky. But this post is not really about Wayne. It is about something that emanates from founder's chemistry between Wozniak and Jobs. 

In this interaction dated 2018, Steve Woznaik said the below about him and Jobs:

Steve Jobs never understood the Computer part of hardware and software and what was really int.

I don't follow financial stuff and thing about business terms. I think about products and technology.

These two sentences sums up, in a way, the contrasting roles played by them in the founding days of Apple. If I have to sum-up their roles in one word, I would say Woznaik was the 'Technology' person and Jobs was a 'Business' person. 

Wait! I have read about a better differentiation of the roles start-up founders play. This was in the book: Make Elephants Fly: The Process of Radical Innovation and he is the excerpt i read:

The Hustler: We like to see that a least one person on the team has a thorough understanding of the business, the customers, and the market. In most startups, this person is called the CEO. This person is also the one who typically sells the vision and the product to the world. So this person should be a great leader and communicator.
The Hacker -Someone who knows the latest technology inside and out and can use this to transform the business. Having a techie on the team from the start is essential. Innovation usually rides a wave of new technologies that disrupt both business and society. The innovation team needs someone who understands how these technologies can be used to reshape and disrupt the world. This technical wizard must also be willing to roll up her sleeves and do the grunt work, like coding and testing. On a mall team, there's no room for delegators. The team needs people willing to do the actual work. In a typical startup, this person would be the lead developer and CTO.
 The Hipster - This is the creative lead. The importance of design thinking in successful startups can't be overestimated. Design is often at the heart of innovation. Small changes in design can have huge impacts. Any good innovation team needs a designer on board from the beginning. YouTube, Slideshare, Etsy, Flickr, Gowalla, Pinterest, Jawbone, Airbnb, Flipboard, Android, and Square all had designers as co founders. Dave McClure, cofounder of accelerator 500 Startups, is fond of saying every team needs a hustler, hacker, and hipster. I like to add a fourth one.
The Hotshot-It helps to have a domain expert on the team, especially if you're attempting something highly technical. This is someone who understands, at the deepest level, the specific problem the team is trying to solve. This is typically a researcher with a PhD or someone with years of experience in the field. Having someone on board with an in-depth knowledge, beyond your typical manager, can make all the difference when it comes to realizing the critical breakthrough. Elon Musk's SpaceX could have never gotten his satellites into orbit without hiring domain experts.The same is true for Craig Venter's mission to build the world's largest database of whole genome, phenotype, and clinical data.

So it is fair to say that Steve Jobs was the Hustler and Steve Woznaik was the Hacker. 

One of my favorite moments while running Innovation programs is kicking off the new programs with new teams. During the kick-off presentation, i tend to present a section which i call "How not to succeed".

One of the 10+ (and growing list) things that i share under this section is "Don't give due attention to assigning the roles". More often I see that a group of 3-4 engineers form a team and assign the roles just for the sake of it. A couple of weeks into the program they realize that hacking (strong skill in the team of engineers) is not achieving full efficiency because hustlers aren't getting feedback and validation from customers and hipster isn't able to articulate the customer experience as well as they should be. In the end, they are behind in the idea execution game.

The teams that i have seen succeed well enough has the roles Hacker, Hipster and Hustler roles clearly marked and working in rhythm.

Successful innovators do embrace diversity in teams.

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