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?
Join the Conversation
Innovation Generation: Insights Learned from Nick D’Aloisio
Inspiring example for sure and, as always, you’ve shared some excellent points and insight Jon. I especially like your suggestion about thinking across the ages. I review a fair number of books each month and I recently read a very disturbing book about “how to increase sales” where the author advised readers to not waste time on the too young or the too old … actually he referred to baby boomers as the “one-foot-in-the-grave crowd.” First time I’ve had to respectfully decline to review a book because there was no way I could be kind with such a myopic view of life.
That is really amazing that someone would take that angle, Marquita! I would also decline that book to read. It is so important to reach out across the generations and, in this case, it show how ideas can really come to life when we do. Appreciate your insights. Thanks! Jon
Great analysis, Jon. From a human interest angle, there are a couple more innovation nuggets to glean from Nick’s story. 1) We can’t be afraid of failure. Creativity gets hampered by the fear that it won’t work. Nick had no reason to be afraid he’d fail. His (and his family’s) livelihood doesn’t hinge on innovation success; he hadn’t gotten to that stage in life yet to be bogged down by implications of failure. 2) Can-do attitude is key to innovation. Perhaps that’s one up-side to the sense of entitlement that Nick’s generation gets dinged for. “No” or “can’t” aren’t acceptable, and for creativity and innovation, that’s a good thing.
All great additions and points to this story, Alice. Youth brings many advantages to doing creative and innovative things. Combined with new access and connectedness, many exciting things can happen. Appreciate your insight. Thanks. Jon
Hi Jon, The Internet for sure is bringing the world closer and lowering the boundaries. Though I believe that you definitely have more access, exposure, and opportunities today, you still need the right direction, motivation, and the incentive to go on a path of innovation. I feel we should not take away the credit from Nick as it’s his inspiration, imagination, perseverance, determination, and self-belief that eventually made the innovation possible. Thanks.
It is great when technology can remove barriers and open up access! Nick is definitely an innovative person, sparking many things to happen. He does deserve great credit and, if you watch one of the interviews, he is very well-spoken and engaging. Thanks for your added insights, Harleena!
You did a great job, Jon, of sharing some important lessons learned from the Nick D’Aloisio success story. Because the world is so interconnected, we must reach out to people beyond our comfort zones. That can be so tricky, yet rewarding. Also, I agree that working across different generations is the way to go. As long as we all remain open to learning from one another, we can support each others’ dreams. Well done! Terri
Thanks, Terri. It is so important today to work across the generations. There is so much more that can be done when that happens. Appreciate it! Jon
The story about Nick D’Aloisio certainly is inspirational and I agree with your points on how the ability to innovate is so much more accessible to many people, because of the boundaries that the World Wide Web has broken.
I can certainly appreciate the age issue being less and less relevant in this day and age. We are making connections and working with people from all types of ages and backgrounds. Such diversity is very powerful in educating us to collaborate more effectively with each other.
Thanks, Hiten. I agree. The more we can break down the generational gaps and work together, the better off we will be and the more we can create. Appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks! Jon
While I’ve read about Nick and the acquisition, your breakdown helps me to see it in a whole new light. Innovation is available to all of us if we’re willing to embrace it. Really struck by two points: 1) So often, instead of solving a problem, innovation is focused on the next cool thing and falls flat. That’s why when I think about the Segway, it’s an invention and not an innovation. 2) Boundaries are disappearing quickly – generational & geographic. It’s a whole new world!
Thanks for this great article!
Thanks, Alli, and it is a whole new world! It is interesting in how the generational and national boundaries have disappeared when it comes to innovation. It will be interesting to continue to see this unfold and what the impact will be on disruptive innovation. Appreciate your insights! Jon
Great analysis, Jon.