John Spence went from being kicked out of college with a D average to becoming CEO of an international Rockefeller foundation and reporting directly to Winthrop P. Rockefeller III just a few years later. This turn around wasn’t an accident, it was something John did by maintaining a focus on innovation, personal growth, and a thirst for learning. As an entrepreneur, he has worn many hats, but has always maintained that focus on innovation. This is the inspiration for his contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom: “II > EI”. Simply put, the equation means that to be successful in the future, the rate of internal innovation must exceed the rate of external innovation.
In the entrepreneurial world, when everything around you becomes unstable, internal innovation is required in order to maintain (or grow), especially considering the speed of change around us. Entrepreneurs know in their core that in order to be successful, we must out-innovate, out-create, out-experiment, and out-deliver our competitors.
The pace of innovation is faster and the scope is broader (global) in every industry, sector, and marketplace. Consider the modern smart phone: in 1982, to purchase something that had every capability that a smart phone currently has would’ve cost $3.2 billion dollars (with a B!) and been the size of two tractor-trailers. An iPhone now retails for $700 and fits in your pocket. In 10 years, you may be able to purchase the same capabilities for $5 at the size of a human blood cell.
The next question that most entrepreneurs will ask, according to John, is regarding intellectual property and the protection of ideas. While the open source economy is rapidly developing, the protection of intellectual property will require a heightened attention on process. This means a powerful commitment to continuous, daily, incremental improvement. In John’s experience, this also requires convening with like-minded individuals to bring new ideas and provide support (the oxymoron of personal connection in the face of technological disconnect).
In that vein, John’s work has provided him with relevant analysis on the younger generation of today’s workforce and produced surprising results. The so-called millennial generation values the opportunity to do important work, work with cool people, and make a difference. This comes from the realization that you can Google an answer, but not a question - it cannot ask you a question and cause you to think critically. The correlation for entrepreneurs is that the success of your business, regardless of size, is directly determined by the quality of the people that you can get, grow, and and retain. Even for “solo-preneurs”, this means your personal network - people who can challenge you and help generate ideas (the process is likely to be 90% give, 10% take).
From similar analytical findings, John’s research shows that the qualities people value most in leadership are asking great questions and the ability to listen. When listening to your key players, ask yourself the following: What does that mean to me? How can I use that? What can I do right away? Similarly, according to John, you must be bold enough and curious enough to explore different industries as a new source of learning and growth.
When thinking of this kind of exponential growth, consider this analogy: which choice you would make if someone offered you either $1 million immediately, or 1 cent that doubles every day for 30 days? The long-term satisfaction of the latter is a perfect microcosm for John’s philosophy on internal innovation.