Being innovative is not rocket science although sometimes it feels like that!
The Economist Leader for 9th June, 2007 discusses what other companies might learn from California's master of innovation. They highlight 4 key lessons:
1. Innovation can come from without as well as from within.
2. Design products around the needs of the user not the demands of the technology.
3. Listening to customers is generally a good idea but is not the whole story.
4. Fail wisely.
In my own words I interpret these lessons as...
Orchestrate people (key talent) within and without the organisation, avoiding NIH by embracing ideas wherever they come from.
Integrate technologies to deliver a coherent user experience that puts the customer at the heart of everything we think and do; but be prepared to lead the customer to a new experience (unarticulated needs) rather than just respond to their expressed (articulated) needs.
Don't worry about being first to market; concentrate on being first to deliver a "sexy" customer experience (as in Ridderstrale and Nordstrom's "Fit and Sexy").
Regard new products as experiments from which we learn rather than pass or fail launches. In their book Karaoke Capitalism Ridderstrale and Nordstrom's hypothesis is that
"being the fittest means being the most cost-competitive and efficient business in your markets.
Being sexy is all about having the appeal that creates demand for your product so the heart rules the head in the minds of the consumers."
They say that
"In a world of economic Darwinism, survival is a question of being fit or sexy – competing on models and moods. Fitness boils down to using market imperfections to your advantage. Masters of mood exploit the imperfections of man by seducing or sedating consumer. Excellent companies re-invent innovation and re-energize the corporation."
So being able to deliver a product that promises and enables a seductive experience is more likely to build a powerful competitive advantage over other less sexy alternatives... for a while anyway! Then fitness might be the way to keep ahead of the competition in appealing to the customer.
Steven Levy's book "The Perfect Thing" talks of how Apple have constantly looked for new ways to deliver the ultimate music experience (which has been changing over time) more effectively (sexy) and more efficiently (Fit) over time, making their own offers obsolete in the process. The result has been a stream of best-selling iPods, the visible face of a system that includes iTunes, iTunes Music Store and mould breaking agreements with the music industry.
Don't forget though that
"Innovation' isn't what innovators do....it's what customers and clients adopt."
- Michael Schrage
What great innovators like Apple do is to discover an motivating insight about the consumer (customer, user) and to come up with an idea of how to turn the insight into a great experience for that person. It is unlikely that an incremental idea will prove sufficient; more likely it will be a creative leap or act that presents a substantial, radical concept to decision makers... in the words of Dietrich Kuchemann, head of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, UK, between 1966-71