Guy Kawasaki on Innovation and the Myth of Lightning-Bolt Inspiration

Power Twitter user, former Mac evangelist, and Alltop cofounder Guy Kawasaki knows a thing or two about innovation. But, he says, that doesn't make it easy.

By Diann Daniel
Wed, February 25, 2009

CIO — Guy Kawasaki is busy. He's a founding partner of seed-stage and early-stage venture capital fund Garage Technology Ventures, co-founder of "online magazine rack" Alltop, and author of nine books, including Reality Check and Rules for Revolutionaries. And if you follow him on Twitter (and more than 19,000 people do), you will probably realize the truth of his words—that he's discovered a way to use Twitter as a weapon.

Clearly this is someone who has something to say about innovation, and we wanted to hear what that was. In a frank discussion with CIO.com (via e-mail), Kawasaki discusses the difficulty of prioritizing innovation when you are worried about financial survival, why we can't know whether Twitter and other social networks gave Obama the win, and how anyone can be an innovator.

Guy Kawasaki
"The most beautiful trend in innovation is that...two [people] in a garage using MySQL, PHP, Rails, and Wordpress can do a lot of damage now—indeed, this puts large companies at risk. "
-Guy Kawasaki

First off, how would you define innovation?

Innovation is creating something before people know they need it. The process involves building upon the work of others—a.k.a., "copying," grinding it out, and deleting what doesn't work to jump to the next curve.

Innovation isn't a lightning bolt of inspiration in the middle of a muse. More often than not, it's a process of grinding, cogitating, and doubting. There truly is no shortcut to innovation. Over the course of a career, you come up with dozens, if not hundreds of ideas, and reject most, try some, and you are lucky if handful succeed.

You cofounded Alltop, which has an interesting origin. How might those beginnings illustrate an innovation lesson to others?

There's a very good lesson in the origin of Alltop: We created it because we noticed that Popurls, a site that aggregates business and tech feeds, generated as much traffic as Google for another site that we owned. Because of this, we got curious about Popurls and decided to copy what it was doing. The lesson here is watch what others do that succeeds and don't be proud about what inspires your innovation. I also believe Alltop itself can help foster innovation because it helps people keep tabs on what others are doing and showcases inspiring ideas, especially at http://innovation.alltop.com/ and http://enterprise.alltop.com.

What about innovation today? In this recession, many companies may decide innovation is an extra. They're just trying to stay afloat, people are getting laid off, and each employee is likely doing the work of two or three employees; the idea of putting time into innovation may seem like fluff. What are your thoughts on such an attitude—in other words, how important is innovation during a recession?

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