Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Source: AAP.

Harvard Business Review

Lessons from Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates: Stop sabotaging your innovation efforts

Harvard Business Review
13 minute Read

In 1974 a young Kodak engineer named Steven Sasson was assigned a seemingly low-stakes task: to see if there was any practical use for a recent invention capable of turning light into data. He built a device that could capture images and digitally display them on a screen and eagerly presented it to his bosses. But he made a tactical blunder: He billed the new technology as “filmless photography”.

That positioning clashed with the very raison d’être of his audience — executives whose careers depended on the sale and processing of film — all but guaranteeing a tepid response. Instead of seizing an advantage in the consumer market, Kodak held off for nearly two decades, by which time several competitors were contesting the market space.

Why did Sasson make such a deeply flawed pitch? He was carried away by enthusiasm for his invention. He later said, “It never occurred to me that I was at odds with the fundamental mission of the company for the last 100 years”.

Innovators like Sasson can be their own worst enemies, derailed by personal traits, such as confidence and optimism, that are essential to creativity but can be toxic when taken to an extreme, and by emotions such as fear, doubt, regret, and frustration, which are typical when trying something new but can too easily stall or destroy an effort.

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