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He has been all over the news the past week. It is a story we find amazing. Nick D’Aloisio, a 17-year old, sold his company, Summly, to Yahoo for an estimated $30 million. It is the American dream of innovation. Today, it is a global dream, as Nick lives in London and will join the Yahoo team there.

The real dream is not striking it rich. Although that dream is passed on to each generation, it is more than a poor-to-rich story. For Generation Y and Z, it is a dream of bringing innovation to market. It is a generation of bringing ideas to life, making the innovation real and available to others to use, buy, and share.

New Generational Innovation Insights

In reading through the various articles and watching several interviews with Nick, there are several key insights on innovation in this new generation. They are:

Dream early and often. Summly was Nick’s third application. The first two happened before he was 15 and focused on the current one. Nick was developing apps since he was 13. The trait exhibited is unafraid. It also shows the availability of easy-to-use and low cost development tools. Both coming together enable a generational shift in how innovation can happen and creativity is expressed.

Solve a problem you face. This is a timeless principle in innovation. There are people, like Nick, who encounter a challenge and know there has to be a better way. With Summly, it was how Nick had to do research on the web. It took too many clicks to determine if the content was relevant or not. Nick knew there had to be a better experience, and he found a way and put it into action.

Importance of timing. This is another ageless adage, and it worked again. Early on, Nick’s company could have been acquired, but he decided to forgo it and continue to develop his application. With youth, patience was a real option. After all, Nick was still in school and has a lifetime ahead of him. More importantly, with the added time, he could build his application further and show and gain greater value.

Work across the generations. It is not only working across generations but working across national boundaries. Nick lived in London. His initial investor was in China. His eventual acquirer is based in the United States. Just as diverse as the geographies were the generations involved. If you look at the investors and team members, those involved had to cross at least 3 or 4 generations. The internet is dropping boundaries between regions, and open mindsets are removing any barriers between generations. All is good to gain innovation freedom and achievement.

A final lesson in the Summly story may be in the reason for the acquisition now. Nick saw Yahoo as a way to scale his innovation more efficiently and broadly. Equally important may be what he saw as alignment of values – “focus on mobile and beautiful technology.” This is something Yahoo is concentrating on now and what has been Nick’s vision from the beginning.

No matter which generation we are in, each of these lessons are important for us to embrace as it relates to innovation.

Timely and Timeless Innovation Principles

From Nick, we need to recognize the new and old principles of innovation:

  • Access is freely available to create. Boundaries are low to gain access to tools as well as access to markets. And, this is across geographies now as well.
  • Age doesn’t matter. People will work together when the idea makes sense and generates excitement about what is possible.
  • Patience still matters. It is a mix – knowing the right time to be acquired, bringing others in, or trying different things until the right one pops.

As James L. McQuivey, Ph.D., author of Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation, discusses, having a digital disruptive mindset makes a big difference in today’s world of innovation.

“Digital disrupters don’t have to be young, but in many cases they are because their minds were formed in an era when digital possibilities were rapidly erasing analog boundaries. The rest of us came up in business school and industry in an era where the answer to most questions about innovation was no. The digital disruptor’s mindset is one in which the default answer is yes.” (page 14)

Being innovative is a mindset. Younger generations are embracing it and we need to welcome it, too.

How has innovation changed today? Are innovative opportunities more open today?