Possibility, Opportunity and Being Better

Sir Jonathan Ive makes an incredibly important distinction between the words better and different in this interview in the London Evening Standard. By having done something better, in the sense that he uses it, then something new has been created.

Whether ‘better’ takes the form of an incremental improvement or results in revolutionary change something new and different now exists. However, the resulting consequences from having done something better are independent of the thinking and work that goes into the improvement. New and different are the result of doing something better and not the other way around.

Contrast this with so many tech startup people whose starting point for innovation begins with a sentence that goes something like,“Let’s do something that will change the world.” Or,“Let’s do something new and different.” Admirable sentiments but simply the wrong place to start.

It’s easy to see how people can put the cart before the horse. Entrepreneurs are constantly being told to, ‘find a need and fill it,’ ‘anticipate the next new big thing,’’create a unique market niche,’ ‘differentiate their offering’ and so on, ad nauseum. It is jargon masquerading as reality.

There is the fear that if entrepreneurs don’t show potential investors something brilliantly original with an astounding USP they will not get funded. In turn, both believe that the only way to distinguish themselves in the market-place and attract customers is to pass off novelty as being the same thing as creativity and innovation.

Doing something new purely for the sake of doing something new doesn’t work. Doing something better is what matters. There were social networks aplenty before Facebook but they did it better. It is not a matter of personal opinion, almost a billion people attest to it every day with the use of their most precious commodity — their time.

Then there are variations on a theme. Over the last couple of years I have heard hundreds of elevator pitches. Nearly all of them describe the proposed service or product as being like this or like that or as a hybrid of this and that. Only a very few of them proclaimed that they were going to do something better than anything that has gone before.

Underpinning the idea of making something better are possibility and opportunity. In Ireland the primary source of possibility lies in the creative imagination and vision of our entrepreneurs and the opportunity lies in the world-class research that is coming out of Irish universities.

The essential base for innovation and growth is here but the thinking needs to shift from being different for its own sake to being different because things are being done better at every level than anyone else and that makes us better competitors in the global market.

Every innovation that we produce here is equal to any innovation produced anywhere else. That is the true nature of the global village of technology, specifically in the form of the internet, has brought us. There is no longer a parochial, provincial backwater to hide in where having limited ambition can be seen as a ‘good thing.’

My, entirely, personal view for why Irish technologists and entrepreneurs do not step up and take the lead is simply cowardice. Not only is it unreal or misguided to have one’s ambition be limited to being the number one purveyor of a given product in Ireland (or even Europe) it is also cowardly. In the same way doing something ‘new’ and ‘different’ is a cowardly way out of facing the real opportunities and challenges that we have in front of us.

Doing something better than anyone else means being the best. It is an act of leadership and a defiance to the cloying norms of social tyranny that work to confine and stymie initiative, progress and original thinking.

Leading an innovative startup that has the courage to be the best in the world by using the possibilities of opportunity to things better than anyone else is the purest and loneliest kind of leadership there is.There is no politicking and backhanding one’s way to positions of power that you find in the power structures of corporations and government. You are judged by one thing alone — Is what you are doing or what you have better than anything else that is out there?

Be brave, be better, be the best. If nothing else, it’s better than the alternative.

One thought on “Possibility, Opportunity and Being Better

  1. On Twitter, @stephen_oman:disqus  wrote “I think the cause is a lack of ambition rather than cowardice. “Irish people have as much ambition as anyone else. And overseas, away from the type of stifling, social conformity which resists the idea of people standing out from the crowd by self-determination, Irish ambition flourishes. But that aside, everyone has different different ambitions and goals and they tend to shift with the different stages of life.Sir Jonathan Ive, makes the point that doing something new or different is really another way of doing the same old thing which for most people brings the same old unsuccessful results. His idea is to do the simple (but sometimes the most difficult) thing and that is to do things better.If people follow his advice and do produce something better, they will be by definition doing the best at that very thing. Being the best immediately marks you out from the crowd and you automatically fall into a position of leadership.Being in the lead is a lonely place and is a position with the inherent responsibility (to maintain income, create jobs etc.) to keep on being the best. In short you are going to stand out from the crowd and there is a definite lack of willingness to do that here.However, I don’t want this to sound like an indictment of Irish society. It is a great place with great people and has a lot to offer the world.I just think that Sir Jonathan Ive makes an extraordinarily important distinction between making progress and just doing the same old thing but different. But to implement that thinking here needs personal courage on the part of creators, innovators and entrepreneurs to be able transcend the social norms that exist.


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