#LSA18: Moz CEO Sarah Bird Says Innovators ‘Blow Up a lot of Rockets’

Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz, was the first main stage speaker at LSA18 exploring the challenges of innovation from a leadership perspective. She said that innovation takes place at the intersection of “exploitation” and “exploration,” breaking down each with the following attributes:

  • Exploitation: short-term, efficiency, discipline, clarity of direction, internal focus, productivity focus.
  • Exploration: long-term, flexible adaptation, empowerment, external focus, growth focus.

She said that at the intersection of these two approaches is “where the magic happens.” Doing just one of these well is difficult but doing both well is an art and she shared a slide “mapping” innovation (below).


She also talked about avoiding the “success trap” which is the suggestion that as competence increases and a company succeeds, exploration declines. To avoid this, decision makers must be willing to fail. She shared a number of innovative companies who have had multi-million dollar failures, but she praised the leadership for taking these chances.

To help capture the mindset of an innovator, she shared tweets from Elon Musk after a number of failed rocket launches. Many of these tweets brought levity to the fact that millions of dollars worth of rockets were being destroyed in these launches. Sarah said “you’ve got to blow up a lot of rockets” if you seek to be innovative. If failure is not an option, then innovation isn’t either.

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