Where Are Your Dying Cows?

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“Entrepreneurs, if you want to make an innovation that people will care about and value, look for dying cows. Show the people how to keep their cows healthy.” -Denning and Dunham ‘The Innovators Way’

Early in ‘The Innovator’s Way’, author’s Peter J. Denning and Robert Dunham share the story of Louis Pasteur and the Dying Cows.  As it goes…

The story takes place in the 1870’s in France, as a strange disease was decimating and killing off the sheep and cattle across the country.  With no “conventional efforts” helping, the French Department of Agriculture pushed Louis Pasteur to become involved and help to solve this mystery and hopefully save the dying cows and sheep.

Pasteur did become involved which led to a vaccination that eventually saved the dying sheep and cows. From which the author’s share, “Pasteur became a national hero.  Within ten years, anthrax was virtually eliminated from the French cattle and sheep industry.  Germs were no longer a theory; Pasteur’s methods produced dramatic results.”

The question then is…why is this important?

It is important because it gets at and to the core of innovation, and why or why not an innovation is accepted and adopted by people.  Or as the author’s of ‘The Innovator’s Way’ share in the opening quote…you have to “look for dying cows.”  The value and the acceptance of innovation is found in “showing the people how to keep their cows healthy.”  Or as Denning and Dunham share, “People are often most receptive to a new technology when they are in the midst of a major breakdown that is causing severe economic or other distress.”

Too often, we base our innovative focus and efforts on creating something that is just new and novel, not whether it “keeps our cows healthy.”  And when we do that, we can miss the main point of why we are trying to innovate.

Innovation and the ideas and creativity that spur it, must be focused on value. Innovation for innovation’s sake is neither helpful nor useful.  Our creative and innovative juices are best utilized when they are applied towards solving a problem or problems that plague us, our people, our teams, our organizations, and our society at large.

When they are used towards “keeping our cows healthy.”

If you want to create and innovate in ways that make a difference in the world around you, make sure you know what and where your “dying cows” are…and what you can do to get them healthy.

References and quotes from…

Denning, Peter and Dunham, Robert.  The Innovator’s Way: Essential Practices for Successful Innovation.  The MIT Press, Cambridge.  2010.


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