The premise throughout this series of explorations of creative innovation and innovators, and creative vision and visionaries has been that while these two – innovators and visionaries – have much in common, they are not the same. The goal of the exploration has been to clarify the nature of the creative innovator and show how, whether in leadership or in the creative fields of industry, the innovator cannot operate like the visionary and cannot be expected to.
Vision is better understood and a lot has been written and thought on the subject. Innovation, a hotter topic right now, is being viewed largely in the same way, using the same paradigm, as vision. The contribution of Pho Magazine to this subject is to distinguish between the visionary and innovator and especially their operations and patterns of experience. That said, in this particular post we’re exploring the basic orientations of these 2 types of creatives or leaders.
Creatives and Leaders
A brief digression to clarify: why do we keep referring to innovators and visionaries in terms of creatives and leaders? Being a visionary or an innovator implies that you are involved in creative work one way or another. However in human society this creative work functionally settled in the work of creatives – designers, architects, artists, advertisers, engineers – and the work of leaders – CEOs, politicians, social activists, etc. These fields, creativity and leadership, we find naturally attract visionaries and innovators today. Why? Because there’s no greater location where vision and innovation, and the bold people who champion them, are so well rewarded. Social leaders could also include religious leaders incidentally and we should not imagine religious leadership is any less demanding on an individual’s creative faculties than say political leadership or graphic design. That said perhaps we can look more closely at the visionary and innovator and how these individuals are oriented.
The Preservation Propensity
This is generally observed amongst visionaries: against all odds they manage to keep the vision alive and finally bring it into the experience of the general population. One of the best examples of this is Henry Ford, the engineer and founder of the Ford Motor Company. The story of Ford and his vision of a mass-product automobile culminated in the ground-breaking Model-T, and notable along this journey was the development of a number of new processes without which it would have been inconceivable to mass produce an automobile at a cost that put it within the price range masses could afford. The ability to survive, almost miraculously sometimes, to somehow make it through, and to accomplish the vision intact in spite of adversarial conditions is the hallmark of the visionary.
The Resurrection Tendency
Innovators are characterised by a different route to accomplishment. Where visionaries survive and preserve, innovators have the tenacity, persistence, resilience to survive waves of failure and disappointment without giving up the goal. Innovators are turned down, stopped and many times reach the point of no hope where all seems lost. This is typical on the path of innovation; a deep inner energy and drive keeps innovators going when the quest for new forms seems to keep hitting dead ends. Inevitably, for seasoned innovators, and those who by instinct keep pressing on against all odds, the great breakthrough comes sooner or later, and the innovation takes root and transforms an industry, sector or society. At this point the innovator experiences the runaway success associated currently with innovation. This doesn’t shield her/him from future disappointments and failures, since as long as transformative change is pursued, metaphorical deaths and resurrections will continue to be present in the lives of the agents of innovation.
Take Steve Jobs as an example: many people know of the youthful Jobs who with his partner Steve Wozniak engineered and pioneered the innovation now known as the Personal Computer or PC. Before them there was no PC to speak of. They created the remarkable innovation, the Macintosh, in a garage. Then not so much is known about him in popular culture until, as owner of Pixar Studios he went back to Apple Computer, the company that had ousted him a decade earlier, and stood in as “interim CEO”. Then we hear about his pioneering innovations, the iMac, the iBook, the iPod, the iPhone. Soon we may hear of some tablet computer that again revolutionises the way we view and use computers and digital technology. (Yes, I left out iTunes by mistake, and the earth’s biggest music retailer, the iTunes Music Store, an online mega-shop akin only to Amazon.com).
In between these two stories of Jobs, the youthful and the elder varieties, there lies a hidden story of Steve Jobs’ remarkable company NeXT Computer (I believe that was the name). This company developed a 1 foot cube PC that was about as powerful as smaller supercomputers at the time. It had no floppy drive replacing this with a “magneto-optical disk drive” that essentially used writable CDs as storage devices. This was around 1989!!!
Well, the world wasn’t ready for the NeXT Computer so though it was produced to retail at around US$ 3,000 or thereabouts, the market didn’t take it up. It was a glamorous failure. I’d speculate that it is around this time Steve Jobs learned enough about the market and marketing through the market’s rejection of the NeXT Cube that he became the marketing genius we know today: a man not just excelling in technical innovation but in marketing savvy that has worked over and over in the “iProducts” named above. He went from technical innovator with a showman’s flair to market engineer of the highest calibre.
Last modified: February 6, 2018