Marylene Delbourg-Delphis - Beyond Eureka! The Rocky Roads to Innovating

May 8, 2024 / 5 mins read

Beyond Eureka! by Marylene Delbourg-Delphis rejects the conflation of entrepreneurship with innovation. Rather, she reveals the complexities of innovation through case studies which demystify its importance for entrepreneurs. Read on for a Q&A with the author about why understanding history is important for innovators and how this book differs from other books on entrepreneurship.

The title of your book is Beyond Eureka! which showcases your argument that an idea alone is not enough for successful implementation. What do you think is the most important quality for bringing an idea to fruition?

The most mportant quality to bring an idea to fruition is an adaptive mindset. Innovation involves hypothesizing about potential markets more than existing ones, and possible interest over current expectations. Also, as they progress beyond the excitement of a brilliant idea, aspiring innovators realize they are not the only ones chasing the same goal. They enter a world of uncertainty. They then depend on all aspects of an adaptable mindset—cognitive flexibility, dynamic thinking, pragmatic openness, intellectual agility, and situational awareness—to capitalize on unfolding events.

How do you define the concept of innovation in your book? And how does this differ from invention or entrepreneurship?

I apply the word “innovation” to the implementation of something new, as implied by the Latin etymology of the word (novus). An important factor here is implementation, meaning that an innovation is developed for and commercialized in a marketplace and is perceived as such by that marketplace. This innovation can be a product, a service, a process, or a business model, or a combination thereof.

Inventions and discoveries also create something new but are not always directly commercialized in a marketplace. Innovations rarely rest on one single invention and are more commonly the combination of several inventions. For example, the merging of dozens of inventions is what made the iPhone one major innovation in the history of smartphones. Entrepreneurship is about creating and operating a company in general, but not all entrepreneurs are or want to be innovative.

The epigraph in your introduction is an Edison quote about failure. What do you see as the importance of failure in innovation?

The quote is “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

This quote is not simply about failure in general, but more on the often long iterative process we have get ready for if we want to innovate. In fact, this quote is about the power of perseverance, and an exhortation to innovators not to be discouraged by setbacks and continue to experiment to find a way. Edison experiments to create a reliable rechargeable battery lasting 10 years—and he created a design that was still viable 60 years later. Closer to us: James Dyson spent 15 years perfecting the design of his vacuum cleaner and went through 5,127 different prototypes.

As a rule, I believe that the innumerous quotes about the fact that “we learn from failure” may not be as encouraging as is usually anticipated. Many people internalize failure and suffer from it more than what they admit, or we want to recognize. I believe it’s more constructive to say that we learn from experimenting and we advance a cause or an idea through trial and error.

Your book contains many case studies and histories of inventions. How does studying the history of innovation help today’s innovators?

While there is an abundance of excellent books and courses on entrepreneurship, the study of innovation's history often takes a backseat. In a way, it's akin to awarding a physics degree to someone who is unaware of the origins of Newton's three laws of motion. Yet, understanding the history of innovation aids modern innovators by knowing the historical knowledge of the space they move into and the historical knowledge of how innovations happen.

The study of history is not an academic exercise—it's an indispensable guide that helps innovators through the complexities of creation and change and tells them that while it’s hard to innovate, it’s also worth it.

How does your book differ from other books on entrepreneurship or starting a business?

Books on entrepreneurship are about the act of starting and growing businesses, and the practical aspects of business operations. Books about innovation books delve into the process of creating something new and the conditions that foster, accelerate, or impede breakthroughs. While aspiring innovators must be familiar with the insights provided by books about entrepreneurship, they must also expand their creative capabilities and adaptiveness way beyond what’s required for just running a business.