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10+1 Questions on Innovation to Marten Mickos

by Roberto V. Zicari on October 13, 2007

I asked 10 +1 Questions on Innovation to Marten Mickos, CEO, MySQL AB.
See his reply below.

10 +1 Questions On Innovation to: Marten Mickos, CEO, MySQL AB.

Mårten Mickos joined MySQL AB as CEO in 2001. Under his leadership, the company has grown from a start-up to the second-largest open source company and the fastest-growing database vendor in the world. Prior to MySQL, Mickos held multi-national CEO and senior executive positions in his native Finland. He holds a M.Sc. in technical physics from Helsinki University of Technology.

1. What is “Innovation” for you?

Some new thing or way of doing things that brings economical
value to a customer.

2. Who are your favorite innovators?

I admire IKEA for innovating the production and distribution process, Apple for innovating usability (mostly from existing
components), and the free and open source software movement for having innovated a great new way to produce and distribute software.

3. What do you consider are the most promising innovations of the last 3 years?

I don’t make such assessments! I’d rather spend time helping innovators than assessing them. I follow Wayne Gretzky’s principle that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
So I think we should try to get more innovations done, not try to find the top 3. The markets will pass their judgment on the innovations anyhow.

4. What does it help to become a successful innovator?

Curiosity. A meticulous ability to make observations. A desire to contribute. An ability to let go of old thoughts.

5. Is there a price to pay to be an innovator? Which one?

Every passion has its price. Most innovators never hit a home run. But all innovators have to give up something else (mostly time).

6. What are the rewards to be an innovator?

I am not an innovator myself, but I believe that the best reward an
innovator can get is to see his or her innovation in productive use.

7. What are in your opinion the top 3 criteria for successful innovation?

Frugality, combination, meticulousness.

8. What would you recommend to young people who wish to pursue innovation?

To start innovating in their everyday life, and to not give up even if it takes years to develop the ability to see new solutions and make them happen.

9. In your opinion how can we create a culture that supports and sustains innovation?

By making heroes of the innovators.

10. What do you think stops/slows down innovation?

I believe that the propensity to innovate is fairly stable across the world and over time. But there also needs to be a full set of supporting functions (investors, sales channels, labour market, etc.) and those we can influence.
For instance, I am not sure Silicon Valley is any more innovative on a base level than any other place, but Silicon Valley has all the functions that you need to make an innovation come true.

10+1 .Do you think becoming an innovator can be taught? If yes, how?

I believe there is an amount of passion needed that you cannot teach.
But I think you can wake up a dormant passion for innovation by exposing young people to successful innovators.
This is the principle of “hanging out and drinking beer with Nobel laureates”. It is extremely stimulating.

Also, I think you can teach the techniques of innovation, as well as the skills you will need to bring the innovation to commercial success.

Hope this is useful!


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