Jim McKelvey’s Innovation Stack Offers Inspiration For My Next Big Move

This post is sponsored by Jim McKelvey, author of The Innovation Stack.

As a resident of St. Louis, I was especially pleased to read The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time (2020) by Jim McKelvey. The book is instructive and inspiring.

McKelvey is most well-known as the cofounder of Square—a company that made it possible for small businesses and individuals to make credit card transactions using their mobile devices. The idea revolutionized the way people could participate in business activities, and even more importantly, a basis for Square was winning some justice for smaller operations.

Innovation Stack

McKelvey is a longtime artist, specifically he supported himself as a glass blower. The spark of an idea that would lead to Square occurred when McKelvey lost out on a sale of one of his products because he had no way of accepting a credit card payment from a potential customer. That problem prompted him to work with one of his collaborators, Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter) to create Square.

In the process of researching steps to developing their device, McKelvey immediately became troubled when he learned that credit card companies were charging small businesses rates sometimes forty times higher than large-scale corporations. I was intrigued and impressed that economic justice was tied into the backstory of this familiar square device.

Innovation Stack

McKelvey discusses an “innovation stack” the cycle of “interlocking and evolving inventions” when and if you dare to make truly novel creations. Square was not simply one solution to a single problem. Instead, the company was created on a series of inventive developments, that is, an Innovation Stack.

This focus on a series of interconnected developments from McKelvey’s book really appealed to me. Over the last couple of months, I have immersed myself in the study of coding. How did I get here? More than ten years ago, I created a website to share my interest in shopping on a budget. Soon after, the challenge of producing high quality images led me to acquire skills as a photographer. The task of composing combinations of texts and photographs prompted me to learn aspects of graphic design.

Innovation Stack

Then, the process of transforming a hobby in fashion into a profession pushed me to learn how to interact with a variety of fashion, makeup, and PR companies. I was obliged to coordinate events throughout the city. Changing technologies made it necessary for me to master multiple modes of online media. Ultimately, my curiosities to think beyond the front end of websites and delve into the back end motivated my journey to coding. The series of problem solving that got me here, in other words, amount to an Innovation Stack, or a kind of skill stack.

McKelvey’s book provides encouragement for those of us who consider the value of responding to challenges with novel solutions. Of course, oftentimes a new solution reveals a new, unfamiliar problem, which requires yet another original solution. When we approach challenges with an awareness that powerful projects or wonderful accomplishments are the  results of an Innovation Stack, then we are usefully prepared for the extended series of steps that await us.

As a Black woman seeking to pursue a career in software development, I understand there are numerous barriers and reasons to feel professionally isolated. At the same time, I remain excited about the possibilities. And who knows? Perhaps some of those challenges are in fact opportunities for innovation.

You can purchase the book here. I’ll also be giving away a copy of the book on Instagram later today.


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