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How to groom the next Steve Jobs?

In the previous post, we talked about how Apple's market cap skyrocketed. Apple's board is now faced with a major challenge: how to ready a Steve Jobs' successor. To keep Apple's thriving business thriving, the board has to groom another breakthrough innovator like Steve.

Apple is not alone. December 2008 Harvard Business Review article Finding and Grooming Breakthrough Innovators says that all growth-oriented companies need to FIND and GROOM breakthrough innovators. The necessity is reflected in the fact that boardroom discussions at leading global companies often center on these questions:
  1. How can we sustain innovation?
  2. Do we have a plan for developing future leaders who can facilitate this goal?
Typically, innovators:
  • Propose new ideas
  • Home in on the most critical components out of enormous amounts of information
  • See connections
  • Discern how to bridge different parts
  • Work hard to recombine these pieces and cultivate internal buy-in.
iPod was developed in that fashion. My own method for business process centric software development was created in a similar fashion (will share that story sometime).

How many such innovators are out there? According to one estimate, the number could be as low as 1% of high-potential managers within a company.

As if finding true innovators is not tough enough, companies face a bigger challenge in terms of developing them.

The HBR article suggests the following steps to identify and foster breakthrough innovators:
  1. Scour the ranks for raw talent
  2. Test people with live ammunition
  3. Encourage mentoring and peer networks
  4. Actively manage innovators' careers.
These suggestions, some of which I will detail in later posts, should keep innovations coming from within companies.


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