5 Questions Every CEO Should Answer About Innovation

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For the first time, we are recording a show in the mobile studio in Austin, Texas. Once we get past COVID, we plan to travel a lot more and visit different innovators in various areas of the country. This past week, I interviewed three CEOs of billion-dollar companies for a virtual event online. I asked them a set of questions and on today’s show I am going to ask and answer those same questions.

Questions

The Invention Question

The questions will get people to think and share things that they usually wouldn’t share. I’m going to run through and randomly pick these questions out of a notebook I have. This notebook contains creative and exciting questions that I have collected over the years.

The first question is: What is the most important invention in the last five years? I think electric car vehicles are fascinating, and I’ve had the benefit of spending some time with Elon Musk. An invention has a massive impact if it has become something that is commercially available. I think electronic vehicles fall right into this category. There are also a lot of spinoffs that have come from the development of these vehicles. The spinoffs include “battery technology,” which is very important. With products like electric cars, there will be a push in the battery industry to create more improvements.

Rethinking Education

The next question is: What is your dangerous idea? The answer to this question pertains to an idea that is disruptive and turns everything on its head. My dangerous idea is to rethink education on a global scale. It’s no longer about memorizing formulas, facts, or figures. It is about teaching future generations how to think, solve, and have a passion for lifelong learning. Whatever skill we’re teaching in the classroom today won’t apply in five or ten years due to the rapid change of technology. There needs to be some rethinking done on traditional education structure to promote teamwork, collaboration, empathy, ideation, experimentation, etc. That’s the work environment students will be entering into when they join the workforce.

Years ago, I did some work with the Singapore government and the state of Ohio building textbooks that included innovation and creativity. Some school districts wanted to treat innovation the same as reading, writing, and arithmetic. We must think of innovation as creative reading and apply it to those topics. Innovation and creativity need to go across all the subject matter.

Step two is to create school environments where there are team projects, creative problem-solving, and experimentation. The key with experimentation is that not all experiments are successful. Whatever the result, you have completed the work and learned in the process. The mindset that you passed or failed needs to be changed. We have to develop ways to experiment and fail while still getting an A in the classroom because you learned from it.

Optimism

The third question is: What are you optimistic about? During the time of this recording, there are many uncertainties. Examples of this would be COVID, the election, social unrest, etc. Despite these issues, there is still a lot of optimism. As humans, we can come together and get through these times using our ingenuity. Look back at the time of the polio epidemic. There was a consorted effort on the issue, and scientists came up with a vaccine and tamed the disease. I think the same thing will happen with COVID.

When we are face to face with crushing problems, we will innovate around them. We can solve these problems when we come together and attack them as one. We have done it for thousands of years and will continue to do it.

Another question I posed is: What have you changed your mind about? There have been many times I changed my ideas, such as when I thought certain technologies were going to be successful, and they weren’t. The most challenging changes are when you have to consider somebody’s perspective on politics, beliefs, sports teams/players, etc. I ask this question because people are often so locked in one idea that they don’t even consider the other options. We all need to change in different areas, no matter what they are.

Wrap-up and Final Question

There is one question that gets an interesting response, no matter who interviews. That question is: What should be the role of government in encouraging innovation? Looking back on my own life, I’ve seen some phenomenal things come about due to government research and development. This includes the space program and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, which I watched live as a kid. The blood oximeter, which tells how much oxygen is in your blood, is a spinoff of the NASA program.

Another example is the origin of the internet. The internet came from DARPA, which the government designed to use should Russia nuke the U.S. Governments invest in areas that are transformative to their people and their economies, which will improve the lives of the people.

To know more about the important questions that every CEO must be able to answer, listen to this week's show: 5 Questions Every CEO Should Answer About Innovation.

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