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10 Questions On Innovation to Ivar Jacobson

by Roberto V. Zicari on August 13, 2007

August 2007–
Dr. Ivar Jacobson is one of the great thought-leaders in the software world where he has made several seminal
contributions. He is one of the fathers of components and component architecture, use cases, modern business engineering, the Unified Modeling Language and the Rational Unified Process. He is the principal author of five influential and best-selling books. He has written more than 50 papers and he is a regular keynote speaker at large conferences around the world.

1. Who are your favorite innovators?
[ivar] I am very impressed by some innovators that have made the world a better world, but I really don’t have any favorites. My favorites are found in other spaces such as sport, music and art.

2. What do you consider are the most promising innovations of the last 3 years?
[ivar] I have not given this question any thoughts.

3. What helped you to become a successful innovator?
[ivar] I have never seen me as an innovator. I have tried to solve problems we have with software, but I guess that could be seen as innovations. I introduced components in 1967 as a means to build software architectures that could change gracefully over many years and that could be reused for many different applications. I introduced use cases to get more understandable requirements at the same time as they worked as test cases.

4. Did you pay a price to be an innovator? Which one?
[ivar] Being a manager for a large project and at the same time fighting for a better way of building software is professional suicide. After having introduced components at Ericsson it took ten years before the company knew it had created history in the telecom space. In the mean time I was demoted and recommended to leave the company. The recommendation was given by my boss who later became the president of Ericsson.

5. What are the rewards to be an innovator?
[ivar] I never came up with an idea to be rewarded. Components made it possible to develop a product that could be adapted to every customer with small costs and made it possible for me to do what I had been asked to do. Use cases streamlined the life cycle since use cases were test cases. However, later I have been rewarded because people adopted these ideas. I have been able to work with fantastic people around the world and make a living out of it.

6. What are in your opinion the top 3 criteria for successful innovation?
[ivar] This is a new question to me, but I will give it a try. An innovation should 1) be practical, 2) stand on a good theoretical foundation, and 3) be simple to understand. I usually quote Kurt Lewin: There is nothing as practical as a good theory. Even a rather complex idea must be presentable in a simple way.

7. What would you recommend to young people who wish to pursue innovation?
[ivar] First of all, don’t make it your goal to become an innovator. If you have good ideas, you will have to fight for them. Many people have good ideas, but most give up due to the resistance that comes from the establishment. Success requires perseverance. On the other hand don’t become greedy. Don’t focus on making money, but be generous with your ideas. You have more ideas that you can harvest from later on. And have fun.

8. In your opinion how can we create a culture that supports and sustains innovation?
[ivar] There are many obvious answers to this question so I will try something different: First, in Sweden there was a time when we had no world class tennis players. Then we got Bjorn Borg. After Bjorn Borg we got many world class tennis players. We have similar effects in other areas. If someone has great ideas, let her or him work with promising people and they will all soon be more interested in coming up with new ideas. In my companies I have had great people around me that now are very alert for new ideas. For example Gunnar Overgaard, Per Kroll, Agneta Jacobson, Maria Ericsson, Dave West, Patrik Jonsson, Pan Wei Ng, Ian Spence, Kurt Bittner, Magnus Christerson, Stefan Bylund. Nothing is as effective in growing an innovative culture as working with innovative people.

In big companies actively supporting alternative careers has been very effective in growing an innovative culture.

9. What do you think stops/slows down innovation?
[ivar] I can’t think of anything more than the obvious answers.

10.Do you think becoming an innovator can be taught?
[ivar] Absolutely

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