Innovation Lessons from Apple
According to The Economist magazine the California’s master of innovation has four important lessons to teach other companies: 1. Not invented here, and very welcome, 2. Designing around user’s needs, 3. Stay hungry, stay foolish, 4. Fail wisely.
The article analyses further the four lessons:
Not invented here, and very welcome
The first is that innovation can come from without as well as within. Apple is locking its engineers away to cook up new ideas and basing products on their moments of inspiration. In fact, its real skill lies in stitching together its own ideas with technologies from outside and then wrapping the results in elegant software and stylish design. Apple is, in short, an orchestrator and integrator of technologies, unafraid to bring in ideas from outside but always adding its own twists.
Designing around user’s needs
Second, Apple illustrates the importance of designing new products around the needs of the user, not the demands of the technology. Too many technology firms think that clever innards are enough to sell their products, resulting in gizmos designed by engineers for engineers. Apple has consistently combined clever technology with simplicity and ease of use.
Stay hungry, stay foolish
Listening to customers is generally a good idea, but it is not the whole story. For all the talk of “user-centric innovation” and allowing feedback from customers to dictate new product designs, a third lesson from Apple is that smart companies should sometimes ignore what the market says it wants today. The iPod was ridiculed when it was launched in 2001, but Mr Jobs stuck by his instinct.
The fourth lesson from Apple is to “fail wisely”. The Macintosh was born from the wreckage of the Lisa, an earlier product that flopped; the iPhone is a response to the failure of Apple’s original music phone, produced in conjunction with Motorola. Both times, Apple learned from its mistakes and tried again. The wider lesson is not to stigmatise failure but to tolerate it and learn from it.
The article argues that the above trends are also followed by other companies as well. For example the first approach known also as “network innovation” has also been embraced by companies such as Procter & Gamble, BT and several drugs giants, all of which have realised the power of admitting that not all good ideas start at home. Making network innovation work involves cultivating contacts with start-ups and academic researchers, constantly scouting for new ideas and ensuring that engineers do not fall prey to “not invented here” syndrome, which always values in-house ideas over those from outside.”
The Economist note that none of the above lessons, of course, guarantees success:
you can buy in clever ideas, pursue simplicity, ignore focus groups and fail wisely—and still go bust. Apple very nearly did so itself. No doubt the bumptious Mr Jobs will overreach himself again: the iPhone’s success is not guaranteed. But for the moment at least it is hard to think of a large company that better epitomises the art of innovation than Apple.