What Does It take to Be An Innovator?

Author Malcolm Gladwell spoke at the recent Intel Focus 2015 event about the need to attack problems in new ways. Although his talk was given at an infosec conference, the lessons he imparted apply to all of us.

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The Bekaa Valley Air Battle of 1982 was one of the most one-sided battles of the last 50 years. Israeli and Syrian forces fought with Israel employing previously unknown tools in the battle field.

Gladwell noted that the Israeli airforce used three technologies that are common today but previously unknown.

They were the use of radar guided missiles, drones and airborne warning and control system (AWACS) reconnaissance planes.

What’s interesting is that none of the ideas and technologies used by Israel were actually invented by them. However, Israel was the first country to put the pieces together.

Why were they able to do this? Gladwell said Israel, a small country, surrounded by hostile enemies, had been devastated by Egyptian forces on day one of Yom Kippur war. Not wanting to face the same defeat at the hands of Syrian forces, they were driven by urgency and desperation.


The other quality Gladwell says is critical for innovators is the ability to withstand and push past criticism. When IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad started flat-packing furniture in the early 1950s he was criticised and ostracised by the Swedish furniture industry. As a result, he took manufacturing to Poland - a country that was in great disarray at the time.

Despite the criticism of the industry who denounced his move to Poland as madness, Kamprad stuck to his guns. Today, it’s hard to go to a house that doesn’t have at least one piece of IKEA furniture in it.

This ability to not flag in the face of criticism is what Gladwell calls disagreeableness.

Be conscientious

Following through is critical. The world is filled with people who have had great ideas but lacked the drive to see them through.

The ability to stick to something is the third critical element to being a successful innovator, says Gladwell.

Anthony Caruana attended Intel Focus 15 in Las Vegas as a guest of Intel Australia


    Innovators tend to be people who really care about art and science. Like Steve Jobs, he changed the way on how we think about many things like telephone, books, and computers.

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