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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Apple, Innovation & Lessons

Michael Schrage once noted growing market competition, not growing R&D spending, is what drives innovation. For the tech industry, once the bets for the year are made in terms of what to go after, Innovation in ideas, in delivery, in business models etc would characterize its growth. Innovation should be seen as bringing creativity to a commonplace- ‘back to basics’ philosophy in place of looking at it as a glorified & high risk strategy. The best known innovators in the world today Google and Apple have a different approach towards innovation. Google, is known for generating and executing on new ideas with blistering speed. Apple, a high leverage innovator has a different approach, one that the Economist magazine captures succinctly: Read against the backdrop of iPhone launch (a segment that Apple is entering/creating depending on how one sees it) in the US, this makes interesting reading. Apple has at least four important wider lessons to teach other companies.
Not invented here, and very welcome.
The first is that innovation can come from without as well as within. Apple is widely assumed to be an innovator in the tradition of Thomas Edison or Bell Laboratories, 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.
[…] Second, Apple illustrates the importance of designing new products around the needs of the user, not the demands of the technology.
[…] 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. This is like focussing on the next practices and not the best practice(s)in benchmarking engagements.
[…] The fourth lesson from Apple is to “fail wisely”. […] The wider lesson is not to stigmatize failure but to tolerate it and learn from it: Europe’s inability to create a rival to Silicon Valley owes much to its tougher bankruptcy laws.

None of these things, of course, guarantees success: you can buy in clever ideas, pursue simplicity, ignore focus groups and fail wisely—and still go bust. But for the moment at least it is hard to think of a large company that better epitomizes the art of innovation than Apple. AMR recently named Apple in its TOP25 supply chain research study for its unparalleled demand-shaping capability that lets its supply chain record spectacular results without sweating costs like everyone else.True, an iconic company of our times has something to offer us in everything it does.

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