Defrag Starts with Look at Strategic Intuition of Apple, Google

Google and Apple took pages out of the playbooks of other companies to create the powerhouse desktop computers and search engines we benefit from today, Columbia Business School Associate Professor William Duggan says. At the Defrag conference, Duggan discusses what he calls the strategic intuition of Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Sergey Brin that led to their accomplishments.

DENVER-Apple and Google revolutionized the PC and search engine markets, respectively, but company leaders borrowed their key concepts from others who came before them.
That was the crux of the Defrag opening keynote speech here Nov. 3 from Columbia Business School Associate Professor William Duggan.
Duggan, whose speech covered the gist of his 2007 book, "Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement," said one thing Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had in common is flashes of insight into how to improve an existing practice.

For photos from Duggan's Defrag keynote on strategic intuition, click here.

Bonaparte helped cultivate the art of war. Edison set the mass production of electric light bulbs in motion. Ford did the same for mass assembly of cars.

Jobs saw the future of computing in another company's GUI. Brin and Page combined existing data mining, Web crawling and early online advertising concepts to create Google.

To illustrate his point regarding modern high-tech innovation, Duggan showed the Defrag audience a short clip of Robert Cringely's 1996 film "Great Artists Steal." In it, Jobs discussed how he visited Xerox's PARC lab in 1979 and was blown away by the GUI the company employed for its personal computer. Jobs said in the movie:

"I was so blinded by the first thing they showed me, which was the graphical user interface. I thought it was the best thing I'd ever seen in my life."

This, Duggan said, is the language of someone who experienced a "flash of insight."
Similarly, Google's Page saw something in AltaVista's search engine that flipped a switch in his own brain. That something was the process of links that "find pages that link to your site," Duggan said.
Page used reverse links, recreated AltaVista's search technique and combined it with Brin's data mining efforts, and Google as we know it was born.

To make money, Page and Brin mimicked Overture's process of listing advertisements alongside Web pages, which led what is Google's massive $16 billion-plus search keyword business today.

These flashes of insight, or strategic intuitions, in which entrepreneurial leaders combine a number of innovations to revolutionize an industry, are fueling the high-tech market, Duggan said.

Microsoft's Bill Gates was also famous for such flashes. Duggan did not mention Microsoft, though he discusses Gates in his book.

Duggan concluded his speech by saying Defrag attendees could experience those flashes of insight. Dare to dream!