Whenever we hear a great business success story, whether it is in the news media or in a business case study, the conclusion is usually that success of the business was due to the people working there and their innovative practices.
I remember reading about Nike in school – and the cases kept going back to the same story of relentless innovation. There was even one story about the founder of Nike pouring rubber into a waffle iron in an attempt to create a better running shoe.
The waffle iron legend at Nike is definitely a nice story – one that no doubt continues to inspire generations of Nike employees – but to what degree did their culture of innovation really matter? Taking a look at Nike’s stock price, you can see a steady rise over time from 1987 to today – a rise which roughly mirrors the growth in world population during the same time period. A culture of innovation is no doubt a tremendous corporate asset; however in the business of selling shoes, I would argue that the most important thing – is the total number of feet.
Was Nike’s success due to their unique culture of innovation? Or, was it just the fact that they were one of the biggest shoe manufactures selling shoes at a time of tremendous world population growth? It’s hard to say.
It’s nice to think that extraordinary individuals and hard-nosed American innovation is what leads to success – but I would argue that the greatest force in business (like in many things) is simply being in the right place at the right time.