Over the last few years I've noticed a common misperception amongst colleagues and acquaintances about innovation. Many of these people adopt the school of thought that in order to be a successful innovator you will require lots of money.
There is an assumption that wealth and capital are the key ingredients which enable companies like Apple, Google and Facebook to innovate.
There is no doubt that big budgets open doors and create opportunities, but they are not imperative to establishing creativity. These days, large companies rarely produce ground-breaking innovations. While they may have a wealth of resources and capital, they often fail to innovate. In my opinion this could be because they're rarely hindered or forced to find alternative solutions. They have the luxury of paying for them.
Individuals or small businesses are far more likely to innovate. A lack of funding often encourages people to think outside of the box and in my eyes these circumstances establish the ultimate breeding ground for creativity.
We are now seeing many large companies purchase small businesses. Google buying YouTube, Facebook buying WhatsApp, Apple buying SnappyLabs and Microsoft buying Skype are just a few examples that come to mind.
So why is this happening so regularly?
There are a host of reasons, including increasing market share and expanding reach. Another significant reason is that these small businesses existed in an environment that was more conducive to being creative.
I believe that the best innovation occurs as a result of struggle as opposed to comfort.
A great example that highlights this came from a young Steven Spielberg. Back in 1975, he was yet to direct a major film and was trying to create a horror movie. He planned for his film to include graphic and gruesome shark attacks. The idea was to have the viewer witness a massive ocean beast attacking its unsuspecting prey.
In what seemed like an unfortunate turn of events, the mechanical sharks that were supposed to play a starring role in the production, weren't working as expected. Spielberg's hopes for visual shark attacks were dashed and the young director was forced to come up with another plan.
What eventuated was a simple cinematic solution which had an incredible impact. He chose to leave the gory attacks to our imagination. We would witness an approaching fin accompanied by a piece of scary music by John Williams, with a chilling crescendo of minor chords followed by one loud major chord. All of a sudden the swimmer disappeared and the water turned red with blood.
"I had no choice but to figure out how to tell the story without the shark," Spielberg said. "So I just went back to Alfred Hitchcock: 'What would Hitchcock do in a situation like this?' ... It's what we don't see which is truly frightening."
People have been aware of sharks for hundreds of years, but before 'Jaws' very few people were worried about swimming at the beach. The shark hysteria that has followed the film's release in 1975 is still present in beaches around the world. While shark attacks almost always make the press, they do not even feature in the list of top animal attacks on humans.
It's fair to say that Spielberg's movie played a significant role in the mindset of people swimming in the ocean all over the planet. After chewing up all of his budget, he was forced into a 'Plan B'. Sometimes it is the lack of resources and funding that allow us to truly innovate.
Another example of innovation arising from struggle, comes from the most famous beverage on the planet - Coca Cola.
While serving in the army James Pemberton was slashed across the chest and like many wounded veterans, became addicted to morphine to ease the pain. Pemberton was a pharmacist and was motivated to find a cure to his addiction. He began concocting pain killers that would serve as opium free alternatives to morphine.
After several failures, he began experimenting with coca and coca wines, which he named French Wine Cola. While this could have been seen as a successful solution, his work did not end here due to a wave of public concern about depression and alcoholism amongst war veterans.
Pemberton was forced to come up with a non alcoholic alternative to his original creation. His relentless pursuit of a solution paid off when he blended base syrup with carbonated water. While this mix occurred by accident, the world's most lucrative beverage was born, and he decided to sell it as a soft drink rather than a type of medicine.
129 years later, Coke is still the most popular drink on the planet.
I opened this piece by stating that I believed there is a misperception that to be a successful innovator you will require a lot of money. The two well known examples above show how innovation is just as (if not more) likely to come from struggle than it is from having endless resources.
In the words of Roger Von Oech:
"Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail, you learn what doesn't work; and second the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach".