The October 12, 2009, issue of Fortune Magazine had a short article profiling Genentech, a biotechnology company with a “long history of developing revolutionary drugs.” Most of what Genentech does to foster a culture of curiosity and creativity should seem familiar to those familiar with this blog and podcast:
- Refresh talent often. Genentech has a postdoctoral program where up to 120 Ph.D holders are awarded fellowships for up to four years. These postdoc fellows are not assigned to any particular project, but work on the research of their own choosing, and that research might later be applied to future products. This results in a constant flow of new, diverse people and ideas moving through the company, keeping the “real innovative, entrepreneurial, creative spirit” around the company.
- Encourage risk taking. Most high-risk projects fail, but those that don’t often provide true breakthroughs.
- Share results. This is through papers in scientific journals.
Genentech’s creative processes tie in well with an October 2010 article in Wired Magazine, Where Ideas Come From, where authors Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson are interviewed. Kelly and Johnson discuss how innovation typically comes not from an isolated lone genius, but rather from environments in which diverse, passionate creators interact and influence each other. These environments produce an increasingly diverse number of things, resulting in an increase of “crap” but also of great things.
So here we have the creativity concepts of diversity, risk taking, and collaboration.
Another interesting point Kelly and Johnson make is that an innovation will only be valuable if it’s not too far ahead of its time. If too many intermediate steps need to be taken, then the innovation will languish. For example, the computer had to be invented before the internet could be developed; inventing the internet before the computer would not have been valuable. The most valuable inventions are usually those that take the smallest possible step to generate the most change.