A Few Thoughts On Innovation

December 11, 2020

Russ Ewell

I’m a consulting detective. The only one in the world. I invented the job.

Sherlock, BBC

There are long weeks, and then there are weeks like the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. These weeks are disruptive, disorienting, stressful, and emotionally exhausting — but if we persevere, they can end happily. 

This was the type of week I experienced recently. It was a week where I remembered and cherished the day of my engagement to my wife of 32 years, but it was also a week in which innovation took center stage. 

Resistance to my personal efforts to change as well as the efforts of the leadership teams I am a part of at two different organizations led me to innovation. The resistance made it feel like Groundhog Day — frustratingly repetitive.  At certain points this week I felt like Al Pacino in Godfather III when he said about his efforts to get out of the Mafia: “Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in.”

What began to break me out of this cycle of repetition was watching episodes of an old favorite, Sherlock Holmes starring Benedict Cumberbatch. There was a scene in the early episodes where Doctor Watson was just getting to know Sherlock, and he asked Mr. Holmes, “What do you do?” Sherlock answered with an eye-opening phrase descriptive of an innovation mindset when he said, “I’m a consulting detective.  The only one in the world. I invented the job.” 

Hearing Sherlock Holmes say, “I invented the job” made me realize that the answer to the resistance I was experiencing was simple: It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to invent. We do not have to give into those forces of resistance who love the status quo, or prefer the relative safety of settled lives.


All this got me thinking about innovation again. The first time innovation captured my attention was at a Stanford Executive Education Program on Innovation in the 1990s. Honestly, the experience changed my life. Having moved to Silicon Valley from Washington D.C., innovation was not in my DNA. But this program launched me on a decades-long transformation to understand the power of invention.

This week, I learned innovation continues whether we like it or not. ‘Creative destruction,’ a term coined by Joseph Shumpeter, is a feature of capitalism, a growing economy, and even a growing life. Some of us embrace the cycle of innovation while others fight it. But regardless of our response, innovation will have its way.

Here are a few items to get you thinking about innovation the way I have this week. If you respond with resistance like I do, you will learn to lean into rather than resist invention.

Elon Musk on California

Mr. Musk likened California to a sports team with a long winning streak, saying “they do tend to get a little complacent, a little entitled, and then they don’t win the championship anymore.” California, he said, “has been winning for a long time. And I think they’re taking them for granted a little bit.”

Elon Musk Moves To Texas, Takes Jab at Silicon Valley

The pandemic has changed the world. Something Elon Musk talks about in his interviews and never-ending yet enjoyable commentary on life is the fact that regulation can stifle innovation. The attempt to control the uncontrollable can cause organizations of all types to overregulate and overreach in their efforts to achieve certain outcomes.

What I like about California is we practice capitalism with a conscience, but sometimes we can forget innovation is the key to our success. A simple truth is we must innovate or die.


Spotify on Podcasts

“Our goal is to get people into the habit of listening to content on Spotify that’s not music,” Polgreen said. While the growth of podcasts has been strong, it’s still a tiny fraction of overall listening for the service. She pointed to the latest Edison research that podcasting hit an all-time high in 2020, now accounting for a 6 percent share of audio consumption in the United States.

Spotify has 300 million users. It wants more of them to listen to podcats.

One company innovating their way under the radar is Spotify. This has been made clear to me by people decades younger. Listening to those who are younger helps us avoid missing innovative opportunities and moments.

Podcasts as the future is the big bet Spotify is making, because they realize without innovation stagnation will set in. They understand that music is not enough, so they are a company willing to innovate whether they fail or succeed. 

Jingle Jangle on Innovating Christmas

However, what makes Jingle Jangle undeniably special is how writer and director David E. Talbert dresses that framework. The world of Jingle Jangle centers an all-Black cast in a Victorian period setting that’s been richly draped in African culture.

From the wardrobe, to the music, to the characters, there’s a vibrancy in Jingle Jangle‘s representation that feels singular, especially for a Christmas movie.

Why it took David E. Talbert two decades to make Jingle Jangle

This Fast Company article about Jingle Jangle has a line which particularly caught my attention: “And all Talbert needed to capture it was his wife and son, free creative rein from Netflix—and 20 years.” Reading this dispelled my sense that innovation happens right away. 

Innovation takes time, so when we are working and working, frustrated, failing, discouraged, and even disillusioned, it is important to realize this is the right road to successful innovation. The key is not to quit before we discover and invent.


This week I have a simple conclusion. When life is moving fast, feeling painful, disrupting, frustrating, filled with resistance, then this is likely confirmation that innovation is happening or needed. This week I am choosing to respond with innovation. How about you?