Friday, October 29, 2004

BusinessWeek - October 2004 - The Seed of Apple's Innovation There are some real interesting comments in BusinessWeek Computer Editor Peter Burrows' interview with Apple's Steve Jobs - here are some of my favourite bits:

"Q: What can we learn from Apple's struggle to innovate during the decade before you returned in 1997?
A: You need a very product-oriented culture, even in a technology company. Lots of companies have tons of great engineers and smart people. But ultimately, there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together. Otherwise, you can get great pieces of technology all floating around the universe. But it doesn't add up to much. That's what was missing at Apple for a while. There were bits and pieces of interesting things floating around, but not that gravitational pull.

People always ask me why did Apple really fail for those years, and it's easy to blame it on certain people or personalities. Certainly, there was some of that. But there's a far more insightful way to think about it. Apple had a monopoly on the graphical user interface for almost 10 years. That's a long time. And how are monopolies lost? Think about it. Some very good product people invent some very good products, and the company achieves a monopoly.

But after that, the product people aren't the ones that drive the company forward anymore. It's the marketing guys or the ones who expand the business into Latin America or whatever. Because what's the point of focusing on making the product even better when the only company you can take business from is yourself?

So a different group of people start to move up. And who usually ends up running the show? The sales guy. John Akers at IBM (IBM ) is the consummate example. Then one day, the monopoly expires for whatever reason. But by then the best product people have left, or they're no longer listened to. And so the company goes through this tumultuous time, and it either survives or it doesn't.

Q: How do you manage for innovation?
A: We hire people who want to make the best things in the world. You'd be surprised how hard people work around here. They work nights and weekends, sometimes not seeing their families for a while. Sometimes people work through Christmas to make sure the tooling is just right at some factory in some corner of the world so our product comes out the best it can be. People care so much, and it shows.

I get asked a lot why Apple's customers are so loyal. It's not because they belong to the Church of Mac! That's ridiculous.

It's because when you buy our products, and three months later you get stuck on something, you quickly figure out [how to get past it]. And you think, "Wow, someone over there at Apple actually thought of this!" And then three months later you try to do something you hadn't tried before, and it works, and you think "Hey, they thought of that, too." And then six months later it happens again. There's almost no product in the world that you have that experience with, but you have it with a Mac. And you have it with an iPod.

Q: What's the CEOs role in all of this?
A: I don't know. Head janitor?

Q: How do you systematize innovation?
A: The system is that there is no system. That doesn't mean we don't have process. Apple is a very disciplined company, and we have great processes. But that's not what it's about. Process makes you more efficient.

But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we've been thinking about a problem. It's ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.

And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We're always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it's only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important."

Steve's made some really interesting points here - especially with the need for internal processes to make innovation efficient - and the need to become more product focused as a company - cool article and worthwhile the read.

Friday, October 15, 2004 - October 2004 - "New 7E7 a composite of ideas" - Continuing in the trend to uncover new innovational capacity by looking at the intersection of various subjects, and industries - Boeing's new 7E7 aeroplane, due out in 3 years' time owes several of its innovative qualities by borrowing from several unconventional places.

For example, in the past, they have borrowed production-line tricks from a coffin company to cut waste from its fabrication methods. This time, The News Tribune's John Gillie discussed their latest efforts at borrowing composite construction techniques from a company that makes high-technology sails.

Pretty interesting stuff - but don't bother going into detail in this article unless you're seriously into the technology aspect of this - this article is more focused on that than on process.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

BusinessWeek Online Extra - October 11 2004 - At P&G, It's "360-Degree Innovation" an interesting interview with P&G's Chief Technology Officer, Gilbert Cloyd, discusses the ways that P&G's innovation efforts are changing to match the changes in society and industry such as the ever increasing pace of innovation in consumer-driven markets (and not just there!), increasing competition from an increasing number of established brands, and more a more informed consumer base.

In response, P&G has had to look beyond their own backyard and blend their own internal innovation efforts with efforts aimed at soliciting ideas from outside the company. Internally, this means encouraging the cross-fertilisation of ideas and concepts internally to take advantage of the innovative power of intersections between differing concepts. Externally, the internet has proven a powerful tool to allow them to exploit the entrepreneurial spirit and the tremendous intellectual capability that exists outside the company.

An interesting article, worth the quick read.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Research at Rice - September 2004 - "Bad, rather than positive, moods may spur creativity under certain conditions" - In an article in the Journal of Applied Psychology by Jennifer George and Jing Zhou of Rice University's Jesse H Jones Graduate School of Management - it seems that positive moods may not, in fact, encourage creativity. Rather, negative moods may actually enhance it more effectively than positive moods.

The report focuses on the relationship between employees' moods and the conditions or context in which they perform their tasks, the role of recognition and rewards, and the extent to which employees know and understand their feelings.

Their results suggest that, dependant on several factors, employees may use their current mood to judge their progress on a creative task - "good moods signal that good progress has been made and that current efforts are sufficient" says George.

Although far from conclusive as the data was based on questionnaires and rating forms from only 67 helicopter company employees - hardly overwhelming - this actually supports soon to be published work by Imaginatik Research based on interviews with 45 managers and consultants that suggest that managers in the current innovation economy face a tough task ahead of them.

One the one hand, in order to encourage the collaborative and knowledge-sharing environment that is necessary to achieve an effective innovation climate, employees must be happy within their environment and with the company they are working for - with confidence that their creative and collaborative work is desired, valued, and of actual implemented value to the company.

On the other hand, in order to be motivated to innovate around a subject, there must be a certain amount of dissatisfaction with the status quo around that subject in order for people to be motivated to be creative and come up with alternative solutions. Keep an eye out for the new research when it comes out in the Corporate Innovation Newsletter and also at