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Skydeck is the HBS alumni podcast series that features interviews with HBS alumni from across the world of business, sharing lessons learned and their own life experiences.

Feb 7, 2020

Eric Schultz was working as an executive chairman for a tech company, and on his way home from a fundraising presentation at a venture firm when he had an epiphany.

A longtime executive with a personal interest in history, he had been struggling with how to frame a new book he was working on about the history of innovation in America. But sitting around a makeshift bar with some of the other executives who had just laid out rosy scenarios and hockey-stick returns to potential investors, the truth came out. One of the executives was running out of cash. Another had a new competitor they didn’t have a few months prior. One had lost her star software developer to a rival. This, Schultz thought, was the perfect framing: Take all of the historical entrepreneurs he was focusing on for his book, and put them in a bar. Let them trade stories, tell jokes, share insights, and see what commonalities these icons could find over a few pints. 

The result is Schultz’s new book, Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship from the Cotton Gin to Broadway's Hamilton, and on this episode of Skydeck, he and I discuss what two artists separated by more than a century can teach us about innovation, and why it’s important for business leaders to reflect on history.  —Dan Morrell