Here’s an article by Ryan McCarthy that describes how Nokia could have been ahead of the game on the iPhone type phone, and then dropped the ball: Counterparties: Why big companies are bad at innovating.
…as early as 2000, the Finnish phone maker had designed a proto-iPhone – complete with a color touch screen and geo-location, gaming, and e-commerce capabilities.
This McCarthy article, quoting Peter Thiel, (actually, this “criticism” is kind of swirling around on the internet right now) describes how big companies might just get too big to innovate. The bigger they get, the more “set” they become, and the more blind they become to a great new idea – even if the idea comes from someone within their own company.
This has been written about by many, with years of recommendations about “skunk works,” secret teams… But it is just further proof that we get so very , very set in our ways.
It reminds me of the story of the invention of the battery powered watch. I listen to it from the “Paradigm Shift” guy, Joel Barker, every semester, on his video The Business of Paradigms. He tells how a man in a Swiss watch company invented this new fangled watch, and then showed it to the folks in his company. “That can’t be a watch – it doesn’t have a mainspring,” went the refrain. Well, the rest of the world saw it at some international watch convention, Seiko ran with it, and the Swiss lost their dominance in the blink of an eye.
Yes, there are a lot of bad new ideas out there. And, I assume that someone at Nokia said “this is a bad idea” with that new fangled phone. What we know is that they did not develop the idea. But others did.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
So, Apple had their newest big roll out yesterday. (Watch the WWDC keynote here). I am an Apple fan, but really only barely use my Apple devices (I have three; iMac, iPad, iPhone) to their capabilities. But I loaded the Macrumors live blog of the event, glanced at it frequently, and followed along. (And I kept looking for the announcement of the latest iMac, but, alas, it did not arrive. My son assures me it is coming soon).
From the moment that Siri started it off, to the multiple announcements, the faithful seemed more than satisfied with the latest good news. Here are two obvious lessons from yesterday’s event. And, yes, they are obvious. But the fact that they are obvious does not mean that other companies and organizations have figured out how to match Apple.
Lesson #1 – keep improving, keep tweaking, and keep innovating. Make your really great products and services even greater. Again and again. From the devices to the software to the operating systems, what is insanely great about Apple now is better than what was insanely great about Apple a year ago, and we all know that by this time next year it will be even greater and better and cooler and “must have” all over again. They give us great stuff now, and will keep on giving us greater stuff tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.
I don’t even understand all of the ways they make it better. But I know it revolves around the entire package, the full constellation of offerings and capabilities – design, speed, (“faster, faster, faster, faster” – this was one of the mantras from yesterday) power, look, resolution, “retina display.” Apple just keeps making every part of Apple, everything that is Apple, and everything that works with Apple, better.
But most of us do not learn this lesson in our work. It took me way too many years to realize that while I talked about and spoke about constant improvement, I practiced very little of it. Here’s an example: for the first 13+ years of the First Friday Book Synopsis, my handouts for my synopses looked exactly the same: a plain, boring-looking, Word document, with no design appeal at all. Not too smart of me! I finally realized it was time (way past time) to make some changes on my handouts. We found a great designer to raise the look of our handouts to a new level. And I think they look terrific. And now, I have to figure out “so what’s next?” to keep getting better. And, all along, I have to ask “how can I do my work better?” It really is never ending.
Lesson #2 – Communicate very well to all of your intended audiences. Call it what you want: learn to market; learn to sell; learn to call attention to; learn to create anticipation. Though the current crop of Apple messengers cannot match the brilliance of Steve Jobs, (who could?!), they have clearly learned some major lessons from the master. And yesterday was a sold-out, live-blogged, extravaganza of a show. With videos and slides and demonstrations and team-presentations and multiple awe-inspiring moments for the faithful, Apple still seems to be at the top of their game.
You can read all you want about the need for better hard skills. And many who write about those hard skills tend to almost look down on the place of those soft skills.
That is a really big mistake!
Apple’s success revolves around these two realities; they make great products, and they sell them even better. Yes, this was part of the brilliance of Steve Jobs. But isn’t it interesting that no other company has come close to matching this aspect of Apple’s approach? Apple gets this – why don’t the rest of us?
Let me put it simply and bluntly – if you do not know how to communicate what you do, what you have to offer, clearly and compellingly, with excitement and great passion, then your great product just may go undiscovered by a whole lot of folks.
Lesson #1 – keep improving, keep tweaking, and keep innovating.
Lesson #2 – Communicate very well to all of your intended audiences.
How are you doing?
The jury came in long ago. No change, no innovation = real trouble for any and every organization.
From Gary Hamel, What Matters Now (notice the subtitle: How to win in a world of relentless change, ferocious competition, and unstoppable innovation):
Innovation isn’t a fad—it’s the real deal, the only deal. Right now, not everyone believes that, but they will…
“Change has changed” – truly, faster change; more change… Leaders must ask, “are we changing as fast as the world around us?”
Yet, the next jury is also coming in – we are slipping in the innovation department.
I have written so many times on this issue. And I think we do wrap a lot of different items under the overall umbrella of innovation. Creativity; constant improvement; updates; upgrades; version 2.0, 3.0. 10.0… the list is endless.
But it all boils down to this. If you have a perfect product, then leave it alone. (Are there any?). But if not, keep improving, keep tinkering, keep tweaking, keep innovating.
If you have a perfect process, then leave it alone. (There are even fewer of these!). If not, keep improving, keep tinkering, keep tweaking, keep innovating.
So, I write about this, I think about this, I present on this – and yet I (yes, me – Randy Mayeux) either forget to do it, or simply don’t want to do it. I don’t change, innovate, upgrade, update. I have my routines, my practices, my habits… and so I keep doing things in yesterday’s ways, and I could clearly do so much better. Laziness rears its ugly head again. As Scott Peck wrote years ago, laziness is our biggest enemy. It’s not that we don’t work. It’s that we work in the same old ways – we are too lazy to pursue the new, the different, the next better thing, the next better way. There is new software out there, new web-based tools to embrace, that would be really useful for me to use. I don’t want to take the time to learn how to use these. There are new skills to learn. I don’t want to take the time and effort to develop them. And so much more… the list is large, and growing, and goes on and on.
In other words, we (including me) really do like to do our work, and live our life, the way we have done our work and lived our life. And so, we fail to innovate. And, so many people in so many companies are just like us…
I read this on Andrew Sullivan’s blog: Is The Era Of Big Innovation Over?. It links to a couple of articles discussing whether or not the big innovations are over. (We don’t have colonies on Mars. We don’t fly around with Jetsons-like jetpacks). He links to Nicholas Carr (author of The Shallows), and his article The hierarchy of innovation. Carr thinks we are now innovating more internally. He writes this:
As we move to the top level of the innovation hierarchy, the inventions have less visible, less transformative effects. We’re no longer changing the shape of the physical world or even of society, as it manifests itself in the physical world. We’re altering internal states, transforming the invisible self. Not surprisingly, when you step back and take a broad view, it looks like stagnation – it looks like nothing is changing very much.
And Carr proposes an “innovation-adapted Maslow’s hierarchy.” It’s pretty interesting Click on the image to take a look..
Think about the two worlds of innovation. There is the big, big world. The folks who will be coming up with mass-produced, inexpensive, driverless cars that will be fueled by garbage and fingernail clippings and thus keep the air cleaner and the planet more beautiful. Or the electricity that will be provided without the use of coal but with massively powerful solar panels built into our sunglasses. You know, the big, big innovations that will really change the world.
But there is also the small, more accessible world. My life, my job, the processes I follow… what am I doing to take the next big, big step in my small, small world?
It will be in the thousands of little innovations that we develop a true culture of innovation. And that is a culture we need to feed, applaud, and immerse ourselves in.
So – what about you? Is there a new software or web based-tool to learn, that would be really useful and make you more effective, more productive? (The answer is yes, by the way. This week, I’m working on learning how to use Trello effectively). Start today. Is there a process in your job to streamline? Start today. Is there a better way to respond to your own customers? So, learn it, do it…start today.
If you don’t join the innovation party, and keep at it, the world may simply pass you by.
…successful products and strategies are quickly copied. Without relentless innovation, success is fleeting. …there’s not one company in a hundred that has made innovation everyone’s job, every day. In most organizations, innovation still happens “despite the system” rather than because of it. …innovation is the only sustainable strategy for creating long-term value.
Gary Hamel, What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation
There is no debate… it is an innovate or die era. What worked yesterday will likely be surpassed by someone else’s product, or service, or process, tomorrow. If you don’t make it better, someone else will.
Innovate, innovate, innovate.
But we are all so busy just doing our work that we don’t have time to think about doing it differently, better, in a new and more innovative way.
But if we don’t, we could be left behind.
Here are two questions to ask every week, in every meeting…actually, to ask almost every day.
Question #1 – Where are we missing it?
We are missing it. I can assure you of that. There is something we are doing, now, that isn’t quite right. There is something that needs our attention, now. What is that? Identify it, tackle it, fix it.
Question #2 – Where are we hitting it? Can we hit it even better?
Be sure to applaud your best successes. Celebrate them. But then, go back to the game film, and ask, can we tweak this to make it even more amazing, more dominant?
Fixing what is wrong. Making even better has is already quite good.
Innovate, innovate, tweak, fix, and innovate some more…
We’ve got our work cut out for us.
Take these two questions into your next team meeting, and the one after that, and the one after that…
Question #1 – Where are we missing it?
Question #2 – Where are we hitting it? Can we hit it even better?
America seems to be suffering a decline in innovation advantage.
America seems to be experiencing an increase in the number of people who work alone.
Is it possible that these are connected?
I have read a lot of books on innovation. And a few on creativity. (Bob Morris, our blogging colleague, is good at reminding us of the difference between the two). And I think about these subjects, creativity and innovation, a lot.
And, right now, on my reading list is the new book The Idea Factory, about the Bell Labs, and the new book by Jonah Lehrer, Imagine. (Imagine is getting a lot of buzz, and I will present my synopsis of this book at the May First Friday Book Synopsis).
So, here’s my latest thought about our innovation deficit. A lot of us are in a deficit position. Why? Because we work primarily alone.
I am an independent consultant. Though Karl Krayer and I have hosted the First Friday Book Synopsis together for fourteen full years, we spend little actual time together. We each office separately. And though I work with other folks in a few different ways, I do most of my thinking and pondering alone. My “coffee breaks” lead to little business interaction. And yet, all of the new research seems to say a lot about the enormous value of the forced and not-so-forced interactions in idea factories of one kind or another. Being together, rubbing elbows together, just talking in “unscheduled” run-ins, can lead to breakthrough thinking.
Why? Here’s a quote from Imagine, which Bob Morris quoted in his review of the book:
“Sometimes a creative problem is so difficult that it requires people to connect their imaginations together; the answer arrives only if we collaborate. That’s because a group is not just a collection of individual talents. Instead, it is a chance for those talents to exceed themselves, to produce something greater than anyone thought possible.”
And don’t forget — “together” actually does require some time “together.”
The Bell Laboratories provide an example of a true idea factory. So too with Pixar, and Apple, and other entities that profit from smart and creative people being together. And it is the sum of all of these many interactions, constantly occurring, that leads to breakthrough ideas.
And, yet, so many more people now work in “alone” settings. The very people that, if they had more interactions, might produce more great ideas.
I “interact” virtually. I read widely. But I’m not sure it is the same as the company cafeteria and ping pong tables and simple coffee breaks…
What do we do about this? I’m not sure. But I think this is a problem worth our attention.
What do we mean when we say that every company, every organization, needs to continually innovate?
It means that every company and every organization needs to continually innovate! Or, they will be left behind, and maybe even cease to exist.
There is no alternative.
This post is prompted by a question that I asked a good friend. First, the background. There is an article critical of the TED conference, written by Nathan Jurgenson. (I read about it on Andrew Sullivan’s blog: TED Talks: “The Urban Outfitters Of The Ideas World. The full article, Against TED, is available at The New Inquiry here).
I am a big fan of TED; I have watched many of the videos, and shown them to my speech students. I’m not sure that I buy Jurgenson’s criticism. Here is one line from his article:
At TED, “everyone is Steve Jobs” and every idea is treated like an iPad.
Now, I own an iPad, I have presented a synopsis of the Isaacson Steve Jobs biography, I am a raving fan of the innovation of Apple, and I got to thinking… Is it in fact “fair” to compare all companies and organizations to Apple? Should we expect that level of innovation in all the rest of the world of business, and nonprofits? In other words, does every company and every organization need to continually innovate?
Now, acknowledging the obvious, that genius like Steve Jobs’ genius is not available for purchase on the shelf at your local grocery store, let me say that yes, the quote is not that far off: “At TED, “everyone is Steve Jobs” and every idea is treated like an iPad.” And, that is what we should do with ideas. We should keep looking for that next profitable, successful idea, and then the next one, and then the next next one. It is the only path to innovation. And if we do not continually innovate, we are in deep, deep trouble.
After reading the TED criticism, I called a friend of mine; an exceptional business consultant/coach. You’ve seen his face on TV, representing a company that became more successful with his help. My question went something like this:
“I know that companies that are directly impacted by technology have to keep innovating. But, does every company have to continually innovate? Aren’t there companies that simply provide a product of service, and basically they keep providing the same product or service. Oh, sure, they will upgrade their software occasionally. But, continually innovate? Really?”
I wondered if this pressure to continually innovate just might not be so “necessary” in quite a few arenas.
Well, this is a smart man, and when he was through with me, I was fully whipped. He told me of one client of his: they provide a product that was basically put out of business by a previously unknown competitor who developed a cheaper, better way to provide the same product. It had to do with what goes inside the “shell” of the product that they manufactured and sold. So, this company had to adapt, quickly. They had to modify what they put inside their own shell, find a new market for their product, and then churn out the product for less than they thought possible. Their innovation saved their company – and quite a few jobs. If they had failed to innovate, they would have had to close the doors.
I started thinking about other examples — example after example. Just look around. What restaurants did you used to eat at – and they are now shuttered? (Does anyone else miss the Steak & Ale salad bar?) What about hotels that you used to stay at? Recently, my wife and I stayed at a three year old Holiday Inn. It is nothing! like the Holiday Inns we stayed at early in our marriage (we married back in the dark ages, when there was no cable TV, not even a remote control, and tennis rackets were still made of wood. I played with a Jack Kramer autograph).
Maybe the only path forward is to treat every new idea like an iPad – a breakthrough for this moment, but soon to be outdated by the new version. Someone will come up with the new version. It is better that you do this yourself.
No matter what your business, it really is a “you’d better learn how to continually innovate” world out there. And here is the value of TED. TED, if nothing else, keeps asking, “Since the world is going to keep changing, what are the ideas that will drive that change in the best direction?”
Look at the TED logo — it is right there in the wording: “Ideas Worth Spreading.”
And out of these presentations, and the many conversations that such a conference and on-line resource sparks, (and, of course, the many other conferences and conversations from other sources), we think about the future differently. And so we ask, how can we do our job better? How can we continually innovate?
Somebody is asking that question right now — someone who is itching to put some other company out of business. Not because they are mean (though they may be); it is just that they want to build a profitable enterprise themselves. They want the customers, and if that means taking them from you, then so be it. And so somebody keeps looking for that next, better idea.
You’ll be smarter if you make that somebody “you.”