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FAQ with Judy Estrin

Q. How have your background and work experiences led to this book?

A. I was raised in an academic family. I have a technology background and was involved in early research on the Internet with Vint Cerf at Stanford. Most of my career was spent as a serial entrepreneur in the networking business, but I have also been exposed to larger corporations through working at CISCO and being a member of the boards of The Walt Disney Company and FedEx Corporation. I have a combination of perspectives – academic, entrepreneur and large corporations -- that many don't have.

During the Internet bubble and its aftermath, I felt things change around me and became increasingly concerned about a shift in the culture of innovation as the business world became more and more short-term focused and risk averse. I was motivated to highlight the severity and implications of the problem, and provide my perspective on how we can start addressing them. While researching and writing the book, I became even more aware of the depth and severity of the problems we face.

Q. Where do corporations or nations go wrong in their approach to innovation?

A. There are five behaviors that I have found to be critical to innovative people, companies or countries. Questioning, Risk – Failure, Openness, Patience, Trust. The right balance of these elements creates a capacity for change. These values have been at the core of American culture – but we have lost our commitment to them.

Wall Street's drive to focus on quarterly results works against long-term strategic investments, ways of thinking, management techniques and ideas. We also have to be very careful about falling back on things that are easy to measure, but whose metrics actually lead to behaviors which reinforce the status quo and discourage questioning and thinking out of the box. A good example is the focus on tests vs. learning in our education system.

Q. What is the Innovation Ecosystem?

A. Innovation is not just an idea, discovery or product. It is not unlike a biological ecosystem, which is the dynamic interaction of communities of living organisms with their environment.

Ongoing, sustainable innovation requires the interaction of three communities of innovation – research, development and application. These communities are influenced by their environment, which in the case of innovation includes leadership, policy, funding, education and culture. A balance among all these factors will sustain long-term innovation. Short-term innovation is not enough.

Innovations like the iPod, new medical procedures and drugs or new food products all rely on a foundation that was set 30+ years ago. The Innovation Ecosystem can be used to evaluate the innovation portfolios of organizations or nations, as well as to assess the strategies necessary to solve global problems such as energy and climate change.