Author Archives: Hervé Lebret

What Is Innovation?

So what is innovation? I had already addressed the question in 2015 in Invention, Entrepreneurship and Innovation. My colleague Federico gave me a few days ago another definition of Innovation from MIT’s Bill Aulet.

Innovation = Invention ∗ Commercialization

You will find the video here.

And here some extracts:

So could it have been “Innovation equals invention?” No, often people mistake these two things for the same thing. They are not. Innovation is something that generates value for the world. It makes something faster, better, cheaper. It gives someone some great satisfaction. An invention is an idea, a technology, a patent. In and of itself, it does not generate value. So these two are not the same thing. And sometimes you see them interchange. And that’s not correct.

So innovation equals invention times commercialization. And when we look at this equation of innovation, something of value, it requires a new idea. And then, it requires someone or some organization that is going to commercialize that idea and to make it a value to the world. So it’s important to understand that an idea by itself is not valuable. Ideas are cheap. Is the commercialization when combined with it that makes them extraordinarily valuable. So while sometimes when I used to say invention plus commercialization, in fact, it’s times.

It’s a product because if I don’t have one, then it’s zero. Then, I have no innovation. If I have no new idea, I can’t commercialize anything. Therefore, it’s zero. If I have an invention and no commercialization, I have no innovation as well. So it’s actually a product. It’s, in fact, the commercialization aspect of it that’s very, very difficult.

If you look at the most innovative company in the world today, which I would argue is Apple, the underlying inventions that created Apple, great innovations starting with the Mac, did not come from themselves. It actually came from Xerox PARC. It was windows, icon, mouse, pointer. That invention, they commercialized to create innovation, which created terrific value in the marketplace and for their customers and for themselves, their investors as well. Likewise after that, you look again that the invention for the underlying and enabling idea, technology from the iPod was MP3, which did not come from Apple, again. That came from Fraunhofer. But what Apple was terrific at was commercialization to create innovation and, again, to create great value for their customers and their shareholders. So this definition of innovation we found very, very helpful to make clear that innovation is a combination of a new idea, a new technology. But then, it has to be commercialized and mapped to some customer in the real world where it will generate value.

Thanks Federico 🙂

Google is 20 years old

Google was incorporated in California on September 4, 1998 so the company is just 20 years old today. The technology is older, it was called BackRub initially (in 1996) and was an internal web site at Stanford University, google.stanford.edu and in September 1997, google.com was registered as an independant web site. You can see below some historic images

and the various logos.

There’ve been many books about Google, some of them are great. I blogged about most of them, Work Rules! a few weeks ago, In The Plex in mid 2015, How Google Works in late 2014, Dogfight in early 2014, I’m Feeling Lucky in 2012. Indeed I blogged a lot about the company as you may see from the Google tag.

If Fairchild was the emblematic Silicon Valley company, founded in the 50s, it was followed by Intel in the 60s, Apple, in the 70s, the 80s have seen Cisco and Sun Microsystems, and Google symbolizes the 90s (Yahoo might be forgotten soon). Facebook belongs to the 2000s, the 2010 decade is still open I think. But the lessons learnt from the years of Google are just unique. The technology, the product, the startup growth, the teams have just changed the way we look at business for good and sometimes bad….

Advice to young (and old) people by Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba

Thanks to my dear colleagues for mentioning to me this moving, inspiring interview from Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. He is giving advice to people from any age related to work and entrepreneurship.

If you’re 25 years old, do not worry, any mistake is an income.

Before 20 years old, be a good student.
Before 30 years old, follow somebody. Go to a small company, you learn the passion, you learn to dream. It’s not which company you go, it’s which boss you follow.
Between 30 and 40 years old, work for yourself. Time to be an entrepreneur.
Between 40 and 50 years old, do the thing you are good at. It’s too late to do something new.
When you are 50 to 60 years old, work for the young people.
When you are over 60, spend time for yourself. Go to the beach!

But when you are 25, make enough mistakes. You fall, you stand up, you fall, you stand up.

Aaron Swartz – The Idealist

I had heard like many of you probably of Aaron Swartz who committed suicide in January 2013 at age 26 after being prosecuted for computer fraud. So when I was advised to read The Idealist, I did not hesitate much before buying it.

The book is divided in two parts: a short history of copyright in the USA since the beginning of the nineteenth century and the story of Aaron Swartz himself. In the first part, the author, Justin Peters, shows the complexity of one of the pillars of intellectual property. You may have a look at my previous posts on the topic with tag #intellectual-property and particularly the profound work of Boldrin and Levine Against Intellectual Monopoly. I will only mention a short paragraph, page 46, of Peters’ book: But in nineteenth-century America, the concept of intellectual property was not yet sacrosanct – and the interests of the readers were not inextrically bound to those of authors. In congressional chambers, lawmakers openly wondered whether international copyright constituted a tax on knowledge and compared literary property to industrial monopoly.


© The Dusty Rebel

As for Aaron Swartz, Three years after [he] died, his story is still on many people’s minds. A large street-art mural of his face, set next to the words RIP AARON SWARTZ, adorns the side of a building in Brooklyn. […] Every year around his birthday , Swartz’s friends and admirers worldwide organize a series of weekend-long “hackatons” intended to stimulate the sorts of social projects Swartz cherished. [Page 14]

Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock – Conclusion: the obligation to dissent

It took me a while to read Bock’s book. It is dense, ambitious, convincing, despite the fact that “Google sounds too good to be true” [Page 318]. There would be so much to say and the diversity of topics addressed by Bock is so broad. If you deal with people, if you manage teams, I think you should read it (I do not manage people and still I think it will be immensely useful to me!).

Another example after my four posts: Bock mentions of of McKinsey values: “uphold the obligation to dissent” [Page 319]. And an example follows on the same page: I was serving a client whose merger was yet to prove disastrous. The client asked for a recommendation on how best to set up a venture capital business. The data were pretty clear. Aside from a few notable examples, like Intel Capital,most corporate venture-capital efforts were failures. they lacked the expertise, clarity of purpose, and physical proximity to where the most lucrative deals were being hatched. I told the senior partner it was a bad idea. I showed him the data. I explained that there were almost no examples of these kinds of efforts being successful, and none that I could find that were thousands of miles outside of Silicon Valley and run by people who lacked any engineering background.
He told me that the client was asking how to set it up, not whether to to set it up, and that I should focus on answering the client’s question.
Perhaps he was right. Or perhaps he had some superior insight into the issue that trumped my data, Maybe he’d already made that argument to the client, and they’d rejected it.
But to me it felt like I’d failed.I thought the obligation to dissent required me to speak up, so it was all the more gut-wrenching to see my concern brushed aside.

Again Google might sound too good to be true, but this is the 5th or 6th book I read about Google from insiders and from outsiders, and the messages are quite consistent. A final quote from page 339: In the introduction I posited that there are two extreme models of how organizations should be run. The heart of this book is my belief that you can choose what type of organizations you want to create, and I’d be shown you some of the tools to do so. The “low-freedom” extreme is the command-and-control organization, where employees are managed tightly, worked intensely, and discarded.The “high-freedom” extreme is based on liberty, where employees are treated with dignity and given a voice in how the company evolves.
Both models can be very profitable, but this book presumes that the most talented people on the planet will want to be part of a freedom-driven company. And freedom-driven companies, because they benefit form the best insight and passion of all their employees are more resilient and better sustain success.

Steve Jobs: “Just Ask”

It’s a famous story for Silicon Valley and Steve Jobs fans. But I had never seen it told by the founder of Apple himself. It shows not only what an entrepreneur is but also the openness of the region at the time and probably still today… It’s nice and short… Watch it.

“I never found anybody that did not want to help me if I asked them for help”

Thanks to the student who gave me the link! 🙂

Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock (part IV) – Managers

Google has been famous for defiance of authority. Bock develops this further.

At google, we have always had a deep skepticism about management. This is just how engineers think: managers are a Dilbertian layer that at best protects the people doing the actual work from the even more poorly informed people higher up the org chart. But our Project Oxygen research, which we’ll cover in depth in chapter 8, showed the managers in fact do many good things. It turns out that we are not skeptical about managers per se. Rather, we are profoundly suspicious of power, and the way managers historically have abused it. [Page 118]

Acton who said “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” also wrote: Great mean are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority, there is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which … the end learns or justifies the means. [Pages 119-20]

It was such a deeply held belief that in 2002 Larry and Sergey eliminated all manager roles in the company. We had over three hundred engineers at the time, and anyone who was a manager was relieved of management responsibilities. Instead every engineer in the company reported to Wayne Rosing. It was a short-lived experiment. Wayne was besieged with requests for expense report approvals and for help in resolving interpersonal conflicts, and within six weeks the managers were reinstated.
[Page 190]

Still Project Oxygen initially set out to prove that managers don’t matter ended up demonstrating that good managers were crucial. [Page 188]. I will let you read Chapter 8 and here are the 8 rules from the study [Page 195]:
1- Be a good coach.
2- Empower the team and do not micromanage.
3- Express interest/concern for team members’ success and personal well-being.
4- Be very productive/results-oriented.
5- Be a good communicator – listen and share information.
6- Help the team with career development.
7- Have a clear vision/strategy for the team.
8- Have important technical skills that help advise the team.

I cannot finish this new post without mentioning a link given by Laszlo Bock about the history of Silicon Valley: “Silicon Valley’s Favorite Stories”, Bits (blog), New York Times, February 5, 2013.


Robert Noyce, right, set up an atmosphere of openness and risk at Fairchild Semiconductor.Credit Courtesy of Wayne Miller/Magnum Photos

Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock (part III) – (the invisible) women in the workplace

The gender gap has become a much more visible issue in 2018 and Bock is no exception (even if his book is older). But before I mention what he says about it, here are two recent and very interesting references:
– The New Yorker just published an article about the gender gap at work and particular at BBC: How the BBC Women Are Working Toward Equal Pay.
– France Culture tells the story of Margaret Hamilton, a software programmer on the Appolo project: (in French) Margaret Hamilton, la femme qui a fait atterrir l’Homme sur la Lune.


Margaret Hamilton during the Apollo program.• Credits : NASA

Now Bock: In one study conducted by Maura Belliveau of long Island University [1], 184 managers were asked to allocate salary increases across a group of employees. The increases aligned nicely with performance ratings. Then they were told that the company’s financial situation meant that funds were limited, but were given the same amount amount of funds to allocate. This time, men received 71 percent of the increase funds, compared to 29 percent for the women even though the men and women had the same distribution of ratings. The managers – of both genders – had given more to the men because they assumed women would be mollified by the explanation of the company’s performance, but that the men would not. they put more money toward the men to avoid what they feared would be a tough conversation. [Page 170]

[1] “Engendering Inequity? How Social Accounts Create vs. Merely Explain Unfavorable Pay Outcomes for Women” Organization Science 23 no 4 (2012) 1154-1174 published online September 28, 2011, https://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/abs/10.1287/orsc.1110.0691

Bock mentions another study on page 137 about graduates from Carnegie Mellon that is also mentioned in the New Yorker article as “As the economist Linda Babcock and the writer Sara Laschever explain, in their book “Women Don’t Ask,” women are less likely than men to negotiate for higher salaries and other benefits. At Carnegie Mellon University, for example, ninety-three per cent of female M.B.A. students accepted an initial salary offer, while only forty-three per cent of men did. Women incur heavy losses for their tendency to avoid negotiation. It is estimated that, over the course of her career, an average woman loses a total of somewhere between half a million and a million and a half dollars.” Additionally “Even when women do make it to the bargaining table, they often fare poorly. In “What Works: Gender Equality by Design,” the behavioral economist Iris Bohnet examines data from a group of Swedish job seekers, among whom women ended up with lower salaries than their equally qualified male peers. “Not only did employers counter women’s already lower demands with stingier counter-offers, they responded less positively when women tried to self-promote,” she writes. “Women, it turns out, cannot even exercise the same strategies for advancement that men benefit from.” When women act more like men, she suggests, they are often punished for it. Lean in, and you might get pushed even further back.

Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock (part II) – the GLAT

In Work Rules!, Bock mentions briefly the GLAT (Google Labs Aptitude Tests) that were also mentioned in David Vise’s Google Story. But he just quickly says they may have been overused and sometimes a waste of time and of resources. But let me refer to his page 73:

That page begins with the image above which can be also found on google blog’s page Warning: we brake for number theory. It’s never too late solve math problems… If you solved it at the time, you got access to the following one:

The second puzzle:
f(1)=7182818284 
f(2)=8182845904 
f(3)=8747135266 
f(4)=7427466391 
 f(5)= __________

Again feel free to try… you will find answers here. Bock just adds this: The result? We hired exactly zero people.

Maybe this will help you:

2.71828182845904523536028747135266249
7757247093699959574966967627724076630
3535475945713821785251664274274663919
3200305992181741359662904357290033429
5260595630738132328627943490763233829
8807531952510190115738341879307021540
8914993488416750924476146066808226480
0168477411853742345442437107539077744
9920695517027618386062613313845830007
5204493382656029760673711320070932870
9127443747047230696977209310141692836
8190255151086574637721112523897844250
5695369677078544996996794686445490598
7931636889230098793127736178215424999
2295763514822082698951936680331825288
6939849646510582093923982948879332036
2509443117301238197068416140397019837
6793206832823764648042953118023287825
>0981945581530175671736133206981125099

as well as this:

x = 1
2.71828182845904523536028747135266249
7757247093699959574966967627724076630
3535475945713821785251664274274663919

x = 2
2.71828182845904523536028747135266249
7757247093699959574966967627724076630
3535475945713821785251664274274663919

x = 3
2.71828182845904523536028747135266249
7757247093699959574966967627724076630
3535475945713821785251664274274663919

x = 4
2.71828182845904523536028747135266249
7757247093699959574966967627724076630
3535475945713821785251664274274663919

x = 5
2.71828182845904523536028747135266249
7757247093699959574966967627724076630
3535475945713821785251664274274663919
3200305992181741359662904357290033429
5260595630738132328627943490763233829
8807531952510190115738341879307021540
8914993488416750924476146066808226480
0168477411853742345442437107539077744
9920695517027618386062613313845830007
5204493382656029760673711320070932870
9127443747047230696977209310141692836
8190255151086574637721112523897844250
5695369677078544996996794686445490598
7931636889230098793127736178215424999
2295763514822082698951936680331825288
6939849646510582093923982948879332036
2509443117301238197068416140397019837
6793206832823764648042953118023287825
0981945581530175671736133206981125099

Work Rules! by Googler Laszlo Bock

I had been advised many times to read Work Rules! with Subtitle “Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead”, yes, another book about Google but not just another.

I just began reading it and the first pages are revealing: a company success is linked to its culture, and its culture comes from its founders. So Bock talks about Page and Brin early life. He refers to three portraits, Larry Page: Google should be like a family by Adma Lashinsky, Fortune, 2012; Larry Page’s University of Michigan Commencement Address in 2009; and The Story of Sergey Brin by Mark Malseed, Moment, 2007. Let me extract a few little things:

My father’s father worked in the Chevy plant in Flint, Michigan. He was an assembly line worker. He drove his two children here to Ann Arbor, and told them: That is where you’re going to go to college. Both his kids did graduate from Michigan. That was the American dream. His daughter, Beverly, is with us today. My Grandpa used to carry an “Alley Oop” hammer – a heavy iron pipe with a hunk of lead melted on the end. The workers made them during the sit-down strikes to protect themselves. When I was growing up, we used that hammer whenever we needed to pound a stake or something into the ground. It is wonderful that most people don’t need to carry a heavy blunt object for protection anymore. But just in case, I have it here.

It is said that the future of any nation can be determined by the care and preparation given to its youth. If all the youths of America were as fortunate in securing an education as we have been, then the future of the United States would be even more bright than it is today.

And about Brin entrepreneurship skills or unique personality: The Brins’ story provides me with a clue to the origins of Sergey’s entrepreneurial instincts. His parents, academics through and through, deny any role in forming their son’s considerable business acumen — “He did not learn it from us, absolutely not our area,” Michael says. Yet Sergey’s willingness to take risks, his sense of whom to trust and ask for help, his vision to see something better and the conviction to go after it — these traits are evident in much of what Michael Brin did in circumventing the system and working twice as hard as others to earn his doctorate, then leave the Soviet Union.

“I do somewhat feel like a minority,” he says. “Being Jewish, especially in Russia, is one aspect of that. Then, being an immigrant in the U.S. And then, since I was significantly ahead in math in school, being the youngest one in a class. I never felt like a part of the majority. So I think that is part of the Jewish heritage in a way.” Today, of course, being a young billionaire, he’s again in a class by himself. “I don’t feel comfortable being one of the crowd,” he reflects. “It’s kind of interesting — I really liked the schools that I went to, but I never rooted for the sports teams. I was never one of the crowd supporting something or not. I like to maintain my independence.”

A final note of serendipity in what I just read: The history of Russian Jewish emigration in the mid-1970s can be neatly summarized in a joke from the era: Two Jews are talking in the street, a third walks by and says to them, “I don’t know what you’re talking about but yes, it’s time to get out of here!” Just have a look at my recent post about A History Of Communism Told Through Communist Jokes. Nice coincidence…