* * * * *
Supertrade, the global cash register and business electronics
company, was founded in the 1950s in a garage by three creative young
engineers fresh out of university. All three came from families in the
retail trade and had spent many unhappy hours behind cash registers, managing
inventory and doing accounts. They had ideas about how those hours could
have been made happier, or at least less tedious, through the use of then
modern technology. And they were determined to turn their ideas into reality
and from there into a profitable business.
They succeeded admirably. Jack, the wealthiest, put up enough family income
to get the business started. His contribution also ensured he became the
business’s first CEO. Fortunately, he performed this role well in
the start-up. Wilbur had a real knack for sales and his family knew a
lot of people in the trade, enabling the company to rack up sales quickly.
Mike, was shy and quiet but could do incredible things with a set of tools,
enabling him to make sexy prototypes of all their concepts. Indeed, Wilbur
could often sell dozens of “new” products before they even
existed thanks to Mike’s prototypes.
The American post-war financial boom sent Americans to the shops, which
led to a fabulous growth in the retail industry. That led to more shops,
a great many of which purchased Supertrade cash registers and any other
business devices the ever growing research and development team could
devise. For instance, the firm eventually became a leading producer of
Throughout its first decade, Supertrade grew through innovation and the
opportunities inherent in a growing economy. It expanded into other markets
and became a global giant. As luck would have it, Jack’s eldest
son, Jack Junior, was a wizard with numbers and acquired bachelor’s
and master’s degrees in finance. So, when his father retired, Jack
was a natural to take over the company.
He also transformed it from an engineering-oriented firm with tight profit
margins to an efficient multinational with bigger margins. And while an
increasingly bureaucratic culture stifled innovation, the company expanded
by purchasing strategically interesting innovative start-ups and marketing
their products better than could their founders. As a result, Supertrade
continued to demonstrate slow but steady growth.
However, two things happened at the dawn of the new millennium. Firstly,
Jack Junior overestimated the business acumen of his eldest son, who was
given the reigns of the firm at just about the same time as the dot-com
boom was turning to bust. Jack III, lacked the financial skills of his
father and the engineering prowess of his grandfather. Indeed, his only
real demonstration of creativity was in the company cars he bought himself,
including a slew of Ferraris, and the ‘research trips’ to
Hawaii, Phuket, Bali and the Caribbean. Jack III also had a nasty temper,
which struck fear in the hearts of all who worked with him.
Without clear leadership, the company became ever more bureaucratic as
managers were reluctant to make decisions that might invoke the wrath
of Jack III. At the same time, ever more powerful PC computers, the rise
of the Internet and the galloping pace of new technology were changing
the face of the retail industry. Supertrade was not keeping up. The company
completely failed to see the radio frequency identification (RFID) revolution
in retail and missed out on an incredible opportunity. And when it did
launch its own products, they were perceived as overpriced and lacking
the functionality of more innovative competing products.
With this lack of innovation came reduced income, increasing operational
costs and profits that shrank into losses. Competitors out-innovated Supertrade
both in implementing new technology in their products as well as streamlining
processes for efficiency. As a result, the company had to lay off staff
and sell off promising, but unprofitable business units just to survive.
It wasn’t pretty.
About this time, Jack III learned the hard way that the only thing more
dangerous than driving drunk or texting while driving is texting while
driving drunk. He wrapped his favourite Ferrari around a telephone pole
three times and his last text message was a sad, misspelled status update
on Facebook, which remained online for two years after he died. Fortunately,
besides Jack, a telephone pole was the only fatality in his pointless
and unnecessary accident.
Fortunately, perhaps, Jack III had no children and left such a bad example
of management, that it was firmly decided to exclude the offspring of
the founders in a search for a new CEO. The board looked at external people
and internal people and after much consideration, decided on Jane, a technical
genius who had shown remarkable aptitude for people management. She had
risen fast in the company and, when invited by the board to present her
case for being CEO, knocked their collective socks off with her ideas.
Since she would also prove cheaper than hiring from outside and had first-hand
knowledge of the many challenges facing Supertrade, it was clear she was
an excellent choice. And she was indeed.
Nevertheless, solving the company’s myriad problems would not be
easy and Jane was not even sure where to start. However she was sure that
the solution would involve innovation. There was no other way that Supertrade
could not only catch up with, but surpass, competitors. The company had
made its name a half century before through innovation. It was time to
take that route again. The challenge facing Jane was how she could transform
the now bureaucratic giant back into the agile innovator it once was.
An R&D person by profession, Jane did what she did best. She researched.
She read books and talked with self-proclaimed experts, of whom she believed
there were way too many, the majority having less understanding of organisational
innovation than she did!
Fortunately, an intriguing solution presented itself to her before long.
In responding to a congratulations note, regarding her promotion, from
an ancient, eccentric and brilliant professor of social psychology, Jane
explained her situation. She knew the quirky professor would enable her
to see her problem in a different light. She was right.
In fact, he wrote to her about the Temple of Ideas: a curious structure
of buildings atop an obscure mountain in a South East Asian country not
necessarily known for impressive creativity and innovation. The Temple
of Ideas was something like the monasteries of long ago. It was a place
were creative people could seek refuge to meditate and learn. It was a
place where novices in organisational innovation could learn to become
Masters of Innovation. It was a place of antiquity and beauty. A place
to think, to study, to learn, to grow.
But the Temple of Ideas was unlike a monastery in two key respects. Firstly,
it was open to men and women. And secondly, while monasteries are known
for strict rules, the Temple of Ideas was more relaxed in that sense.
After all, many creative people are rather rebellious.
Sadly, for Jane, the ancient professor did not know – or perhaps
he refused to say – where this temple could be found. Indeed, few
people knew of its location. For only those both creative and determined
enough to find the temple were worthy of becoming Masters of Innovation.
Or so she was told.
Jane was inspired and she began her search for the Temple of Ideas. It
was not an easy search and it was nearly a year before she identified
what she believed to be its location. Then she booked a flight to Bangkok,
arranged for a chartered aeroplane, a Range Rover and a guide to get her
to the mountain.
* * *
As it happens, I was in the gatehouse at the foot of the mountain when
Jane arrived, dishevelled, hot and tired. “Do you know the Temple
of Ideas?” she asked of me.
“Indeed, I do,” I happily informed her.
“But tell me, please, why you are looking for the temple.”
“Why should I do that?” she asked eyeing
me more carefully.
“Because I am the temple’s gatekeeper today,”
Satisfied, she told me the story of Supertrade Industries
and of her desire to become an innovation master so she could transform
the company from being a dim example of mediocrity to being a shining
example of corporate innovation.
“Ah, yes. You definitely want the Temple of Ideas.
It is there, at the top of the mountain,” I said pointing. “I
will take you there.”
“That’s not necessary,” she said.
“I have climbing experience. I can get there myself.”
“I’m sure you have and you could,”
I said. “But it is necessary and a part of the learning process.”
“Oh, are you an Innovation Master?” she
“Perhaps. I have much to learn,” I answered.
Then I changed the subject. “It’s late in the afternoon. We
can start early tomorrow morning. It will be a new day with many possibilities
open to us. Do you have a room in town, or can we put you up here for
“I have a room in town,” she replied as
she glanced inside. The gatehouse is an attractive, creatively decorated
old building, if I may say so myself. I suspect she would have liked to
have stayed there.
“Very good,” I said.
“I will meet you here at dawn.”
“Great,” she replied. We shook hands formally and she walked
Appearing out of the early morning mist she arrived, decked out in appropriate
climbing clothes and a designer rucksack on her back. I invited her into
the gatehouse and spread out on the table a map. It displayed the myriad
possibilities for getting to the top of a mountain littered with stairways,
chairlifts, ladders, rock faces and much more. However, there was no clear
path to the top and it was obvious we would have to use a variety of means
to get to the temple of ideas.
“Oh my, there is a lot here,” she remarked. “Is this
like a maze with just one path to the Temple of Ideas?”
“No, don’t worry. There are many paths to the top. And you
can even change your path as you climb. But it is wise to start with a
plan. Otherwise, you could easily find yourself not achieving your goal.
Now, how would you like to do this?”
Jane opted for a route that combined efficiency with some pleasant walking
and fine views. We noted her route on the map, pocketed it and walked
through an elegant, very old stone gate to a long flight of stairs. We
began climbing as the mist started to clear. I could just make out the
Temple of Ideas at the top of the mountain. It is always good when your
goal is in sight.
It was indeed going to be a good day.
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Publication Date: 1 December 2010
ISBN/EAN13: 9491156004 / 9789491156007
Page Count: 230
Binding Type: US Trade Paper
Trim Size: 6" x 9" / 15.24 x 22.86 cm
Inside colour: Black and White
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