This Week in Innovation: 4/20–4/26

The stories, happenings, memes, and dust-ups that shaped the innovation dialogue over the past 7 days.
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After a heated debate at Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored conference last Wednesday, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian and Annenberg Lab director Jonathan Taplin (who used to tour manage legendary rock group The Band) took the discussion online—and the gloves off. At Ohanian’s ill-timed suggestion (it was doled out the day before Band drummer Levon Helm’s death) that The Band should turn to Kickstarter to raise money for one more album, Taplin told Ohanian to "take your charity and shove it.”

Is competition the enemy of creativity? That’s what David Brooks suggested in a New York Times op-ed on Monday. The columnist highlighted the theories of Stanford professor (and PayPal founder) Peter Thiel, who contends that the cycle of one-upsmanship that fuels college admissions, business, and politics is killing American innovation. “In the race to be more competitive, we sometimes confuse what is hard with what is valuable,” Brooks writes.

If you’ve never heard of Valve, a game company The Next Web modestly calls “one of the best game companies in the world,” not to worry: with the leak of Valve’s fascinating employee handbook, you can learn everything you need to know about what makes an innovative entertainment company tick. At Valve, projects are 100% “self-directed”—meaning employees are never told what to work on—and project teams are called “cabals” (for more on how “cabals” were born, check out this incredible article on Valve in 1999). “Valve is more than a games company,” the handbook declares as an introduction—and perhaps more than anything else, the handbook demonstrates how all great companies should think about themselves.

Despite Wall Street analysts’ predictions and a Forbes article about a French upstart challenging its business model, Apple proved on Tuesday that it’s still got it—$39.2 billion of it, in fact. During an earnings call with Wall Street analysts and reporters on Tuesday, the tech giant announced its sales had risen by 59% over the year-ago period, with a record $39.2 billion in revenue. The company sold 35.1 million iPhones during the quarter, blowing past estimates of Wall Street analysts, and 11.8 million iPads. But is it too early to break out the champagne? As Computerworld reports, the 4 million Macs sold (lower than Wall Street’s estimate of 4.2 million) might signify possible iPad cannibalization.

Nintendo reported its first annual loss in half a century as a public company on Thursday, with a deficit of ¥37.3 billion, or $460 million, for the financial year that ended March 31. The loss reflects a major shift towards mobile games, a transition that Nintendo has failed to address with the Wii or its DS handheld console. “A game started on a Wii cannot be continued on a DS on the way to work or school,” the New York Times points out. Nintendo’s loss echoes the similar decline of another Japanese tech corporation, Sony, whose struggle to innovate has left it unprofitable since 2008.

Illustration by Michael Sendrow.

FROM the greenhouse