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The Importance of “ Mindset “ and “ Asking Good Questions “ – to Innovate for Impact

History has shown lots of supposedly wise people struggle with “ Look Ahead “ and having an “Innovation Mindset “ since they didn’t recognize the potential of a great idea –


1.  “ I do not believe the introduction of motor-cars will ever affect the riding of horses.” 

– Scott Montague, MP in the United Kingdom in 1903

2.  “ The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular ? ” 

– David Sarnoff’s Associates rejecting a proposal for investment in the radio in the 1920s

3.  “ This is typical Berlin hot air. The product is worthless.” 

– Letter sent by Heinrich Dreser, head of Bayer’s Pharmacological Institute, rejecting Felix Hoffmann’s invention of “ aspirin “. At the time their main painkiller was “ diacetylmorphine “ – which made factory workers feel animated and ‘heroic ’ – which is why Bayer named it ‘ heroin ’. Later, due to its funny side effects, it was taken heroin off the market ! Eventually, the chairman overruled Dreser’s decision to make “ aspirin “ Bayer’s main painkiller – which is now has more than 10 billion tablets consumed annually.

4.  “ Who the hell wants to copy a document on plain paper ??? !!! ” 

– Rejection letter in 1940 to Chester Carlson, inventor of the XEROX machine. In fact, over 20 companies rejected his “ useless ” idea between 1939 and 1944. Even the National Inventors Council dismissed it !

5.  “ You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles ? It can’t be done. It’s just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training.” 

– Rejection letter to Arthur Jones, who invented the Nautilus Fitness Machine.

6.  “ We went to Atari and said – We’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts. What do you think about funding us ?  Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.   When Atari said ‘ No ’  we went to Hewlett-Packard. They said – We don’t need you, you haven’t got through college yet.” 

– Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer.

+ other examples are at –  and

From this, it’s amazing how leadership in enterprises miss out on – huge opportunities, dramatically increasing their relevance and revenue, evolving their business model, making life better, and creating significant wealth for their stakeholders. Unfortunately, it’s still happening – which is why the optics of being an “ established company “ aren’t what they appear ! This is verified by 88 % of the companies in the Fortune 500 list in 1970 are gone , 52 % of the companies in the Fortune 500 list in 2000 are gone, and 40 % of the companies in the Fortune 500 list today are expected to be gone by 2030 !

Obviously it’s not easy – effecting change, doing away with old habits and processes, moving from the status quo, changing the basics of the business, recognizing trying and failing is better than not trying, getting people outside their comfort zones, etc. Further, not knowing what you don’t know is very problematic – and not wanting to know is even more problematic ! Interestingly, even with a desire to innovate because there are many unknowns as well as it being very difficult for decision makers to assess a new product, concept, market, business model, technology, etc. With a lack of tangible proof or high confidence in the vision or “ look ahead “, the typical response is to not run the risk of failure – for the business, or their career !

What’s the consequence of not addressing these issues ? …. Being marginalized or irrelevant in the future, or worse, the company goes away (as indicated in the Fortune 500 turn over)

To get past these challenges, it’s essential enterprises develop the “ Innovation Mindset “ and “ Ask Good Questions “ to meaningfully improve outcomes by being –

A.  able to learn fast

B.  good at assessing information and situations in context and from different perspectives

C.  open minded and allow the thoughts and the process to develop

D.  able to assess and test insights and ideas could meaningfully –

  • extend current business capabilities
  • create new opportunities in current markets or in a new market
  • evolve the business and the business model
  • attract and retain top talent

E.  good at look ahead and envisioning possibilities – from the future perspective, not today or the past

  • To identify the better opportunities then work backward from the future to where the organization is today and determine the best options to move forward
  • Think destination and strategically first, then tactics and metrics, as you venture down the path of discovery

F.  selective of those in the Innovation Team with internal and external people who are very talented, accomplished, and motivated to innovate for impact

Examples of ” Good Questions To Ask ” when considering a new product or service are –

1.  Will people buy it ?

2.  Is there a very compelling business value proposition ?

3.  How is value creation to be recognized / monetized ?

4.  Are the new capabilities and business model lucrative ?

5.  How do we prudently manage risk –

A.  How can we be sure there are very talented, accomplished, results oriented people on      the team ?
B.  What experiments will validate the merits of the innovation ?
C.  What are the relevant metrics (hard and soft)
D.  What are the early signs of the need to pivot, kill, scale ?
E.  Is the Innovation Team able to effect change ?
F.  Is the organization open to change – incremental and disruptive ?

6.  What are the main challenges to deliver and monetize the new product / service ?

7.  How do we leverage current and new capabilities to –

A.  Meaningfully expand opportunities
B.  Meaningfully increase relevance and revenue
C.  Have greater competitive advantage
D.  Significantly grow business valuation
E.  Reward those in innovation – for successes and the lessons learned for failure
F.  Further build brand value

In closing, Innovating for Impact, like all things new, is a mystery until you master it. Hopefully the above insights contribute to making this happen. And to get better at Innovation to address new business needs and increasing User expectations going forward – keep on learning, experimenting, practicing, etc. by asking questions to evolve the thinking and further developing the innovation mindset.


Feb 12, 2021       by CAIL / Gijs van Wulfen           Innovation commentary