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May 14, 2013

The Mother of Invention

Posted by Carol McCarthy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:51 AM


Mater artium necessitas. Or in English: Necessity is the mother of invention. We, in the technology world, certainly owe a lot to necessity. You can look at necessity a number of ways:, such as drive or ambition or determination. These qualities are all part of the culture of a great technology-based organization. But while we're analyzing old phrases, what's also noteworthy about the one I've just shared is that it links invention (or innovation, if you'd like) to a mother. Because the U.S and urban India celebrated Mother's Day this weekend, I thought it would be fitting to look at what influence our moms have had on the world of technology and human progress in general.

I came across a wonderful essay in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week from a technologist who likens her experience with raising her four children to creating a more efficient organization. At first she admits that she knows she might offend some readers with her premise - how "arrogant" she might come across for recommending that a good leader parents her employees. Instead, what she is saying is that her parenting helped her understand the different styles and personalities of people around her. And, more importantly, how to motivate and challenge them against the background of a technology company.

One child insisted on playing with toys in ways that did not come with the directions, such as, she writes, tearing the heads off Barbie. She was fascinated by her daughter's ability to look at toys from new perspectives and not to care about how other children played with them. Such unconventionality has led this woman to appreciate the innovators within her company. She's always more willing to allow people to take risks and explore new ways of doing things. Sometimes the outcomes can result in new products or business lines.

In this same series of blogs was a recollection from another extraordinary techie mom. She happens to be the mother of the man who founded Twitter. She writes that when her son, Jack Dorsey, was a child, she started up a coffee shop. Her hunch is that her son saw the intricacies of entrepreneurship and most likely wasn't intimidated to start his own firm, Twitter, many years later. What's also interesting is that the coffee shop is where he met a friend with whom he would eventually found another tech company, Square.

To me, the story is a wonderful example of how a mom showed her child that it's OK to take business risks. Sometimes you fail. But at least you know you tried. (It also helped that she bought her son an IBM PC Jr. - remember those? - when he was still young.) What she writes struck a chord in me: that it's good to teach children that life does not come without difficulties. The way we're measured as people (both in the business community and personally) is how we deal with such challenges.

Nobody said the technology world was an easy one. It's filled with tough entrepreneurs willing to look at the market from different angles. And many are people unafraid of change and of failure. It seems to me that many of us have our mothers to thank for instilling these qualities within us.

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