What Can You learn from the Founder of IKEA?


The single biggest obstacle in innovation is one small word: ‘no’. Real innovators turn the ‘Nos’ into ‘Yesses’ on their way, as innovation does not stop at the first no; that’s the moment it really starts. As innovator you have to be prepared to do things others won’t approve and don’t want to be bothered with it.

In 1928 it was the famous economist Joseph Schumpeter who wrote, “Successful innovation is a feat not of intellect but of will. Its difficulty consists in the resistance and uncertainties incident to doing what has not been done before.” Overcoming resistance and managing uncertainty is determining, according to Schumpeter, the innovation outcomes. I could not agree more with him![i]

A great example of an innovator with great will is Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, the Swedish furniture retailer. Malcolm Gladwell mentions the story of how he got started: “His great innovation was to realize that much of the cost of furniture was tied up in its assembly: putting the legs on the table not only costs money but also makes shipping the table really expensive. So he sold furniture that hadn’t been assembled, shipped it cheaply in flat boxes, and undersold all his competitors. In the mid-1950s however, Kamprad ran into trouble. Swedish furniture manufacturers launched a boycott against IKEA. They were angry about his low prices, and they stopped filling his orders. IKEA faced ruin. Desperate for a solution, Kamprad looked south and realized just across the Baltic Sea from Sweden was Poland, a country with much cheaper labor and plenty of wood. That’s Kamprad’s openness: few companies were outsourcing like that in the early 1960s. Then Kamprad focused his attention on making the Polish connection work. It wasn’t easy. Poland in the 1960s was a mess. It was a communist country. It had none of the infrastructure or machinery or trained workforce or legal protections of a Western country. But Kamprad pulled it off. “He is a micromanager,” says Anders Aslund, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “That’s why he succeeded where others failed. He went out to these unpleasant places, and made sure things worked. He’s this extremely stubborn character. That’s conscientiousness. But what was the most striking fact about Kamprad’s decision? It’s the year he went to Poland: 1961. The Berlin Wall was going up. The Cold War was at its peak. Within a year, East and West would come to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The equivalent today would be Walmart setting up shop in North Korea. Most people wouldn’t even think of doing business in the land of the enemy for fear of being branded a traitor. Not Kamprad. He didn’t care a whit for what others thought of him.”

This example of Ingvar Kamprad really fits my view on the mindset of a real innovator, quoting the Irishman George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

So my best advice for innovators is: be unreasonable, persevere at great will and at full speed.

Wishing you lots of success on your innovation journeys in 2017, turning ‘Nos’ into ‘Yesses’ on your way.


Note : This article was originally posted on LinkedIn

Gijs van Wulfen


Gijs van Wulfen is a recognised authority and keynote speaker on innovation and Design Thinking. He was chosen as one of the first LinkedIn Influencers and as of 2017, 300.000 people across the globe are following his notably engaging, prolific and insightful posts. In 2016 Gijs came number 2 in the international Top 40 Innovation Bloggers. In 2017 his book ‘The Innovation Maze’ was elected ‘Management Book of the Year’.




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