Four Foundational Innovation Lessons From Apple
Just saying you are focusing on innovation and spending a big chunk of change on “being innovative” does not automatically lead to innovation success. Lots of CEOs have jumped on the innovation bandwagon in the last few years declaring, like Ford Motor Copmany, that Innovation is their new mission. Most of those companies, like Ford, have not seen their business improve as a result and some have started to curtail their investment in innovation. The problem, as I see it, is that these CEOs have latched on to the idea of innovation as some sort of magic bullet. With lots of fanfare they tell the organization to “start innovating” and then get frustrated when the billion dollar winning ideas don’t materialize fast enough. Soon, innovation in the organization goes the way of previous magic bullets like Six Sigma or TQM.
Still, there are companies like Toyota and Apple who have seen great success as a result of their innovative ideas. What makes them different? For these companies, innovation is not a program layered onto the existing organizational framework. It’s not just a marketing pitch. It’s not a subset of your top talent sequestered in a room for a couple of days a week to come up with the next big idea. It’s just part of their chemistry. It’s ingrained in their culture.
This past June, The Economist ran a story on innovation at Apple and highlighted four lessons that other companies can learn from the “master of innovation”.
- Innovation can come from without as well as within: Not all innovation has to be manufactured from scratch. Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player or the mobile phone, they just redesigned them. Oftentimes it is stitching ideas together to make a more seamless experience that is more important.
- Designing new products around the needs of the user: The Swiss Arm Knife may have been a great innovation, but don’t believe that a product will sell itself if you can force enough features into it. Focus instead on fewer features that are developed around the needs of the users and executed in an intuitive way. In other words, make you product more “experiential”.
- Sometimes ignore what the market says it wants today: While it’s important to listen to your customers, don’t limit yourself to what they are asking for. Nintendo proved this to be true last year with the introduction of the Wii with its motion-sensitive controller. The market had been saying more realistic graphics, HD output, etc. Nintendo went for a better experience through the human interface and disrupted the competition in the process. Consumers did not ask for the MP3 player, the microwave oven or any number of other innovative products that we can’t live without today but, relating back to lesson #2, we did have needs and companies that had a keen understanding of those needs and the ability to leverage new, disrupting technologies, were able to translate those needs into innovative products.NextUp › Edit — WordPress
- Fail wisely: Don’t stigmatize failure. Failure leads to learning and should be tolerated, even encouraged where risks can be minimized. The article points out that before the Macintosh, Apple had the Lisa failure and that the iPhone was born out of the music phone that Apple produced in conjunction with Motorola. While my former employer’s innovation program had it’s flaws, this was one component that was understood and embraced. “Fail Early and Fail Often” was the mantra. The idea was to be constantly looking for and testing many innovative ideas, knowing that most of them will not make it past the first business acumen checkpoint. That’s ok. It’s better to kill of the ideas that are not going to fly and learn from that failure as you move on to the next idea.
Will these basic concepts make you a successful innovator? Not necessarily, but I think they are foundational. What other innovation lessons do you believe are foundational?
(image courtesy of Getty Images)