The next book by “Tipping Point” and “Blink” author Malcolm Gladwell will be about conceptual and experimental innovators, according to David Manaster, CEO of ERE Media Inc.
In a blog post, Manaster says that Gladwell’s “book about ‘high achievers’ … should be published in about eighteen months. (In it, Gladwell) places creative people into a continuum with two approaches to innovation – conceptual and experimental.”
Manaster’s blog, “Hire Calling,” reports on Gladwell’s talk to a recent recruiting-industry conference. Those remarks included many examples of conceptual and experimental innovators — very familiar examples for people who have been following this line of thought:
“Conceptual innovators … are the revolutionaries with bold ideas and strokes of genius – the people who create a something new and different. They are brilliant, but can be inconsistent – some of their bold moves will be genius, and some will miss their mark, and there is no guarantee that they can recreate their original inspiration.”
- “Picasso , who painted his most valuable paintings as a young man,” and
- “Orson Welles, who never surpassed his early masterpiece Citizen Kane.”
“Experimental innovators are relentless. They do not have that flash of brilliance of the conceptual innovator, but they are relentless. An experimental innovator will take an idea and doggedly pursue it, making changes and trying small changes – riffing n the concept until something sticks.” For example:
- “Paul Cézanne, … Gladwell’s example of this kind of innovator – his most valuable paintings were done later in life, after much experimentation” and
- “Alfred Hitchcock, whose most famous movies came late in his career, after he had already created dozens of films.”
Gladwell also discussed conceptual and experimental innovation in the music business, as he did in a lecture last year.
At the conference, Gladwell said, “experimental innovators seem to have an edge – at least in live performances, which is where the real money is. It took Fleetwood Mac 16 albums to come up with Rumours, their most successful album ever. Two of the most successful touring bands in history are The Dave Matthews Band and The Grateful Dead – and according to Gladwell, both are experimental, working over many years to get their formulas down. “
Gladwell also broke new ground with a discussion of innovators on television:
“In TV, the shows on HBO are widely regarded as the most creative and engaging on television. In an approach that is regarded as atypical for that industry (where a typical show only has a few episodes to gather an audience and become a breakout hit before it is cancelled), Gladwell said that a large part of their success has been because HBO is willing to give new shows enough time to develop and find their groove. Six Feet Under, one of their most critically acclaimed shows, did not reach its creative peak until its third season, even though it did not get a solid following in its entire first season.”
What is the relevance of this to daily life, especially in the workplace?
“In a showing of hands in the audience, it appeared as if most of the people in the room considered themselves to be experimental innovators (myself included). This makes sense to me, because businesses look to deliver products and services they can grow over time, which would seem to favor an incremental, experimental kind of thinking over the conceptual. (Just think of how a company’s financial performance is measured as percent growth rather than the number of new product launches they have done in a quarter.)
“What surprised me was that even in businesses traditionally thought of as ‘creative’ (conceptually innnovative), the experimental innovators seem to be more prominent than one might expect.”
Further, “If employees are no longer loyal, why should companies invest in experimental innovators if they will not see the ROI on those investments? The answer: Retention, retention, retention. “