Innovation and Execution in 45 Quotes

Stay hungry stay foolish
Innovation is not just about coming up with new ideas — we do have a fair number in circulation. Execution can be innovative, we see it all the time.

Yet, many consider innovation sexy and execution… well, it is work isn't it?

I was also thinking about what having a spirit of inquiry means to me. Given my lifelong pursuit of good questions — mostly why questions — I thought I would share with you a few nuggets I came across and saved from books and other readings that talk about execution and innovation to inspire us to lead with questions.



“Advocates of knowledge management as the next big thing have advanced the proposition that what companies need is more intellectual capital. While that is undeniably true, it's  only partly true. What those advocates are forgetting is that knowledge is only useful if you do something with it.”

— Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor, Stanford Graduate School of Business


“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”

–- Fyodor Dostoevsky


“To find the exact answer, one must first ask the exact question.”

— S. Tobin Webster


“Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it… It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover the seeds of truth.” 

— Virginia Woolf


 “A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he or she gets to know something.”

— Wilson Mizner


“You don't have to spend a jillion dollars on advertising to get your word out. What matters is that customers have a good experience with your product at every single point of contact. We completely obsess over execution. Doing good  is good business.”

— David Neeleman, founder, JetBlue


“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” 

— Gen. George S. Patton


“It is no use saying, We are doing our best. You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”

— Winston Churchill


“What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?”

— Dr. Robert Schuller


“If you are content with the best you have done, you will never do the best you can do.” 

— Martin Vanbee


“A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock pile when somebody contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind.”

— Antoine Saint-Exupery


“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.”

–- Linus Pauling


“He who thinks little, errs much.” 

— from the Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci


“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”

— Thomas A. Edison


“We must bear in mind, then, that there is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things in any state. For the innovator has for enemies all those who derived advantages from the old order of things, whilst those who expect to be benefited by the new institutions will be but lukewarm defenders. This indifference arises in part from fear of their adversaries who were favoured by the existing laws, and partly from the incredulity of men who have no faith in anything new that is not the result of well-established experience. Hence it is that, whenever the opponents of the new order of things have the opportunity to attack it, they will do it with the zeal of partisans, whilst the others defend it but feebly, so that it is dangerous to rely upon the latter.”

— Niccolo' Machiavelli


“The silly question is the first intimation of some totally new development.”

-– Alfred North Whitehead


“I know that the twelve notes in each octave and the varieties of rhythm offer me opportunities that all of human genius will never exhaust.”

— Igor Stravinsky


“Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They're there every night, they see it done every night, they see how it should be done every night, but they can't do it themselves.”

— Brendan Behan (quoted by Gyles Brandreth in *Theatrical Disasters*)


“Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory.”

–  Leonardo Da Vinci


“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we already have done.”

— Longfellow


“The time to go into a new business is when it's badly run by others.”

— Sir Richard Branson, founder, Virgin


“The winner is the chef who takes the same ingredients as everyone else and produces the best result.”

— Edward de Bono


“Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren't there before.”

— Margaret J. Wheatley


“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered. The point is to discover them.”

— Galileo Galilei


“The sign of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in your mind and still be able to function.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald


“To create, one must question everything.”

— Eileen Grey


“Mindless habitual behavior is the enemy of innovation.” — Rosabeth Moss Kanter.


“A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”

— Steve Jobs


“You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

— Wayne Gretzky


“To understand a new idea, break an old habit.”

— Jean Toomer


“Outsides are where the action is. Think walls, borders, ceilings, membranes, crusts, skins, and doors. Surfaces are where the rubber meets the road. Edges are a lot more than frills. Surfaces are where things make contact, including land, sea and sky. Surfaces also tell stories. Horizons are the surfaces of what we see.”

— K.C. Cole


“Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow.”

— T. S. Eliot


“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”

— Seneca


“Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”

— Picasso


“Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

— Goethe


“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who overcomes his enemies; for the hardest victory is victory over self.”

— Aristotle


“One of the basics of a good system of innovation is diversity. In some ways, the stronger the culture (national, institutional, generational, or other), the less likely it is to harbor innovative thinking. Common and deep-seated beliefs, widespread norms, and behavior and performance standards are enemies of new ideas. Any society that prides itself on being harmonious and homogeneous is very unlikely to catalyze idiosyncratic thinking. Suppression of innovation need not be overt. It can be simply a matter of people's walking around in tacit agreement and full comfort with the status quo.”

— Nicholas Negroponte


“Everything you see and touch was  once an invisible idea until someone chose to bring it into being. Any powerful idea is absolutely fascinating and absolutely useless until we choose to use it.”

— Richard Bach


“Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind.”

— Marston Bates


“The world is divided into people who do things and people who get the credit. Try, if you can, to belong to the first class. There's far less competition.”

— Dwight Morrow


“Inspiration is a guest who does not like to visit lazy people.”

— Tchaikowsky 


“Begin and you're halfway there.”

— Alfred A. Montapert


“Alan Kay's famous aphorism is that perspective is worth 80 IQ points. An innovative insight is not the product of an individual's brilliance. It's not as if innovators' heads are wired in different ways. Innovation typically comes from looking at the world through a slightly different lens.”

— Gary Hamel


“You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time.”

— John Knox


“Judge less, do more.”


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