Joe’s Journal: On Defining the Innovator

“The characteristic of the innovator is the ability to envisage as a system what to others are unrelated, separate elements. It is the successful attempt to find and to provide the smallest missing part that will convert already existing elements.”
–Peter F. Drucker

This idea is best exemplified by Peter Drucker himself. He describes in Innovation and Entrepreneurship that innovators of new knowledge actually build “on the shoulders of others,” as Isaac Newton once said. Drucker explained that you couldn’t bring forth something new without understanding what’s already been done.

When he wrote The Practice of Management in 1954, he was expanding on the ideas of others, but his was the first attempt to systematize those ideas in a way that could be accessed by executives and students of management. How did he do it? Well, there was a lot there for him to build on. He went back to the ideas of Frederick Taylor, the Hawthorne Experiments, Mary Parker Follett and others who were contemplating questions of how organizations function and how worker productivity is impacted my management practices. By the early 1940’s Drucker was anxious to see how people like Harold Smiddy in larger organizations like GE functioned. Out of his time consulting at GE he developed the concept of Management by Objectives, but this was a result of him simply building on the work and the thinking that was there before him.

Drucker showed that the innovator is usually someone who sees bits and pieces, has an ability to bring the parts together, and then adds the missing elements to bring about something new.

–Joe Maciariello