For whom the bell tolls

I read two short articles over this weekend. One was entitled “Avoiding Innovation’s Terrible Toll” written by Spencer E Ante, published in the Wall Street Journal ( ) and the other by Jeffrey Phillips “When executives talk about innovation, watch out” in his innovate on purpose blog here (

I felt the heavy sound of the bells tolling away coming through both articles and it reminded me of For Whom the Bell Tolls a famous novel by Ernest Hemingway.

The first was the sad demises of Kodak

If you have not seen the day of Revolution in a small town where all know all in the town and always have known all, you have seen nothing.- For Whom the Bell Tolls

Rochester may not be the ideal place to live, the headquarters for Kodak but it was the place that thousands of people earned their living by being associated with Kodak. They worked there, they supported it in the community, and they mostly benefitted from it. What saddens me of course is that they at Kodak did not have that ability to react to such dramatic changes within their industry.

“There isn’t any need to deny everything there’s been just because you are going to lose it.”
– Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ch. 38

What really saddens me more, is the real loss for so many, that put their hearts and souls into making Kodak what is was, it must be crushing to see where this previous giant has been heading in these past few years. I knew a number of Kodak executives, full of pride, full of belief yet all this has been crumbling in this force of creative destruction. It is a heavy sound for me. Perhaps they were powerless to stop this, even in different circumstances and even if they had made some different decisions. Innovation can be a destructive force but it is the person involved who often pays. Spare a thought for those within the Kodak community also, their lives are being changed dramatically.

The second was Yahoo to do more innovation and disruption.

To make war all you need is intelligence. But to win you need talent and material.
For Whom the Bell Tolls

Scott Thompson in becoming the new CEO at Yahoo explained in a recent interview he believes Yahoo as a technology company has both “disruption” and “innovation” at its core.

Jeffrey quiet rightly questions Yahoo and its recent record. They led as innovators for some time then they lost it, or so it seemed. They are more disrupted than disruptor today. Regaining its prominence will be a really hard road to travel.  In another article ( ) the writer starts by asking this set of ‘reasonable‘ opening questions- “how a guy who has zero media, content or advertising experience is expected to turn around a company that makes ALL of its money through media, content, and advertising”.

How little we know of what there is to know.
For Whom the Bell Tolls

I stood up and cheered on what Jeffrey stated at the end of his article.

“What I’d like to hear from Thompson, and other executives is a clearly delineated strategy, which emphasizes growth, or differentiation, or operational excellence, or customer intimacy, and then hear them talk about how innovation is going to help them achieve these strategies and retain leadership in these strategies.  Right now we are putting too much emphasis on innovation – a tool which should be used in service of strategy, rather than putting the emphasis where it belongs first – on the strategy”.

I definitely could not say that better Jeffrey.

It reminded me of another line from for Whom the Bell Tolls

Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today. It’s been that way all this year. It’s been that way so many times. All of war is that way – For Whom the Bell Tolls

We face today events that will call for destruction, for disruption but lets remember the two things here, the hard work put in by many people that often get ‘short changed’ due to leaders making bold statements that might be a touch unrealistic, or just simply playing to the audience that cries out for these things in the name of innovation.

“Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee”?

Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never sends to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”. . . .from Meditation 17 by John Donne

The act of innovation demands much from us all but we all do need to take care- it can excite, it can deliver new promise but it can also destroy those that do not fully appreciate its powerful effects and leave many simply wondering.

Spare a thought for those who work in the trenches when you claim “innovation” will lead us to that ‘Promised Land,’ it usually means climbing over others who were simply caught up in this destruction going on around them, to powerless to do anything. We should all pause for the demise of one and question the belief of others, about to take us into fresh battles.

We should demand more from our leaders and can feel let down when they are not capable to deliver for often their real blind spots, dogma or given mindsets. We can all become more cautious and that is not so good for innovation’s health but it should be based on a deeper understanding of the power of innovation’s forces, both good and not so good.

Oh, now, now, now, the only now, and above all now, and there is no other now but thou now and now is thy prophet.” ― Ernest Hemingway

3 thoughts on “For whom the bell tolls

  1. I think this literary reference works very well for both of these stories. The last paragraph in Jeffrey Phillips article is by far the most comprehensive statement on companies and innovation – if Thompson had had those expectations before the interview!
    I work for a show called CIO Talk Radio and we are having a show on January 18th called “Building Innovation as a Long Term Enterprise Capability” with guests Dan Fallon, CTO of Navistar and Clayton Christiansen, Harvard Professor and author on disruptive innovation. I would really like to hear your thoughts after the show.


  2. Pingback: What is the missing real cost by not innovating? | Paul4innovating's Blog

  3. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | What is the Missing Cost of Not Innovating?

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