The Key to Successful Innovation: Dream Big, Work Hard and Think Long-term
How can a nation become an innovation-driven society? What does it take to develop a start-up into a large sustainable business? What are the key challenges and pitfalls of starting a new venture?
Late last year, the world’s leading innovators and venture capitalists gathered at the Open Innovations Forum in Moscow to address these questions through exchanging ideas and sharing personal insights.
Focused on promoting cross-border partnerships in the field of tech entrepreneurship, the forum brought together a wide array of innovation experts, including Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, serial angel investor Esther Dyson, Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Fellow Esko Aho, Chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation John Kao, and many others.
The forum speakers highlighted the importance of having a long-term view to develop and produce innovation. “If you study the history of lifelong companies, there is an activating vision, some big audacious goal, a moonshot that sustains the innovation over time,” John Kao said.
Richard Branson observed that business is generally more prone to long-term thinking than governments whose agendas often do not extend far beyond the next elections.
He stressed, however, that the practice of quarterly reporting, adopted by public companies, can be damaging for large businesses, limiting their perspective and impeding their innovative growth.
Sir Richard urged public companies to change the reporting laws to the minimum of six months but possibly even to one year in order to foster long-term thinking.
For both public and private sectors the key to shaping a grand vision is building and embracing a long-term strategy, said Esko Aho, former Prime Minister of Finland who was heavily involved in the development of the country’s high-tech sector in the 1990s. He explained that it’s critical to create an environment where long-term investment projects are getting enough attention.
Esther Dyson underscored that it is also important to convey this vision to your target audience. “You need to market your strategy, as a company or as a government, and get people to understand it,” she said.
Richard Branson pointed out that for start-up founders, long-term thinking also involves releasing the grip on the business once it gets relatively mature. “Find someone who is better than yourself to run the company on a day-to-day basis. That frees you up to think of the bigger picture, and move on to the next, hopefully giant step,” he explained.
However rewarding innovative entrepreneurship might become, by no means should it be viewed as a shortcut to success and prosperity, Esko Aho warned. He stressed that young people should keep in mind that accomplishments in this field are only possible through a great deal of hard work and practice.
Engaging in innovation also requires an ability to take risks and overcome failures, not uncommon in the realm of venture capital.
“Many entrepreneurs try once and fail, try twice and fail again, and then succeed the third time,” Branson said. “Never criticize people who tried something and failed.”
Moreover, for people who tried doing something extraordinary but fall flat, an unsuccessful attempt could be a valuable experience. “Ask them what they’ve learned, and if they tell you they’ve learned something—that failure was just the cost of their education,” Esther Dyson said.
Although innovation involves a fair share of risk and hard work, it also provides virtually unlimited opportunities for changing the world and making a real difference, according to Sir Richard Branson whose latest venture Virgin Galactic focuses on developing space tourism.
“If we’ve got a spaceship company, why can’t we make that spaceship go from Moscow to Australia in two hours? Why can’t we go and mine asteroids, why can’t we colonise Mars?” Branson said.
“Unless you ask these questions, unless you dream, none of these things happen,” he added. “So just keep dreaming and in ten years time lots of exciting things will be happening.”