Tag Archives: apple

Tony Fadell: Stay a beginner to drive change

Tony Fadell NestWhat’s the most powerful technique available to innovators? Observation.

Tony Fadell, the creator of the iPod and Nest thermostat, shared his mantra for innovation at a recent TED conference:

“It’s seeing the invisible problem, not just the obvious problem, that’s important,” Fadell said onstage. “There are invisible problems all around us. First we need to see them. To feel them. Then we can solve them.”

What large companies still don’t get about marketing innovation

Though we are fairly well into the internet economy where brands can communicate directly with customers in a variety of ways through social networks, one belief from the old order still holds true: incumbent brands believe that in order to win the hearts and minds of customers, that they can out-market upstarts that gain loyalty through the great products and services they deliver.

There are only a handful of companies that can both make great products and advertising. We continually marvel at products and services from visionary companies like Apple, Google, Uber and others who gain our loyalty the product and service excellence; you can actually feel their dedication.

Hiring and managing for brilliance

Want game-changing ideas and execution? Hire misfits, weirdos, black sheep, difficult people who don’t fit into traditional roles because they are just brilliant. This isn’t a new idea, but when CEO’s say they want innovation, they don’t walk the talk by themselves; nor does human resources.

Corporations aren’t recruiting enough weirdos:

New ideas are necessary, but not sufficient for innovation

It’s not the idea, it’s what you do with it. Design an organization that is both competent at generating and executing effective ideas.

For all the research and literature that exists about innovation, ideas still take up the vast majority of the attention as the leading factor behind successful innovations. Because ideas are the sexy part of innovation, many believe that a novel idea is an innovation itself; it is not. More importantly, just because something is novel doesn’t mean it will win in the marketplace.

Do ideas matter?

Ed Catmull on how Pixar’s continued success is enabled by it’s culture of candor

A key for unleashing innovation in any type of organization is the willingness to let employees try stuff without feeling that they will be punished if they fail. Creativity is only unleashed when people feel safe that they won’t be judged.

Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar, describes in his talk below why he believes a culture that focuses on being “necessarily honest” is integral to creating the best work possible.

First principles thinking: a better way to innovate

Elon Musk

Elon Musk (Photo credit: jdlasica)

“If it’s a sure bet, we’re not interested,” – Jay Schnitzer, former director of Darpa’s Defense Sciences Office

Solving problems no one else has encountered, that’s what I like to do. Last year, I was in the beginning stages of developing a new non-existent case study venture with a friend. At one point during the project, though the expectations were set from the beginning, it became obvious to my friend that we were entering uncharted territory. He jumped ship, and I wasn’t surprised.

Some people just don’t have it in them. Our project could be modified to look “more of a sure thing” but I didn’t want  no part in it. The lure of a sure thing has a hard pull on most humans, especially when it’s staring them in the face. But the sure thing doesn’t yield original work; if that is what you are looking to do.

The special situation all innovators want to be in is where we can start with a blank slate. Not just simply modify and tweak a sure thing. If that’s what you are looking for, read on…

The dangers of comparison thinking

Derivative work, where you can clearly see a mashup of previous ideas; that’s what most work looks like. In my line of work we talk a lot about Disney as having a monopoly on the most impactful type of innovation of all: customer experience.

There isn’t a meeting that doesn’t go by where Disney isn’t mentioned. Same goes for when discussing UI’s and UX’s, there is always a comparison towards Apple. Or when discussing films, someone always mentions some great movie and how we can replicate some scene from it; or even the story.

But, Disney and Apple aren’t everything. Existing companies started from a set of assumptions that drove them for a while, and still do, and those same assumptions should not be taken as a given.

The mind has a very hard pull on us to take the easy way out and just replicate from existing solutions. This usually leads to iteration and increments. Again, the problem with iterative work is that you start with existing assumptions, rather than questioning them.

For increments, comparison is a great tactic to use. For breakthroughs, we have to start at the fundamentals…

Start with First Principles

We normally think by analogy — by comparing experiences and ideas to what we already know— but Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, says there’s a better way to innovate: start with a blank slate and use first principles.

In the video above, Elon Musk talks about starting from “First Principles”:

“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.”

I agree with his point of view, it takes a lot more mental energy to start from scratch. I also think it’s one of the reasons so few people can start with a blank page and not overcome our mind’s tendency to immediately make comparisons.

The benefit of “first principles” thinking?

It allows you to innovate in clear leaps, rather than building small improvements onto something that already exists. Musk gives an example of the first automobile. While everyone else was trying to improve horse-drawn carriages, someone looked at the fundamentals of transportation and the combustion engine in order to create a car.

Typically, inside corporations inductive thinking (based on directly observable facts) and deductive thinking (logic and analysis, typically based on past evidence) are prized. Whereas design focused organizations emphasize abductive thinking  (imagining what could be possible). Thinking in terms of First Principles puts us in abductive thinking mode because we have to discover new patterns and build from there.

To get your mind focused on the fundamentals, ask yourself the following questions before starting any project:

  • What are we really trying to accomplish?
  • What is the real problem?
  • What really matters to the customer/user?

Rarely do people ask themselves questions likes these when starting a project. There is a bias to jump straight in like a chicken without it’s head, next thing you see is people just spinning their wheels.

Bottom line: As I’ve said previously, innovation is more about perspective and attitude than it is about process. The insight for innovation happens when looking at a problem from a completely new angle. Breaking a problem down to its core components and then building back up from there with a fresh perspective often helps us arrive at very different conclusions than established approaches.