Tag Archives: apple

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.

Are all innovators alike?

Are all innovators alike?

Nuances and details are lost in the sea of bullshit that is media and human irrationality, and an outcome is one of the most dangerous things humans do: build people up to more than they probably are.

Sure, the world needs heroes that carry a positive narrative that others can latch on to and get inspired to make a story of their own. My heroes are Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan. You have your own, for your own personal reasons.

And just like you and I have our own motivations for why we do something, what we do and how we do it; so do other potential innovators.

Truth is, that in a world where people are fitted into boxes, everyone has their own creative style. Some people are more systematic than others, and some of us are more intuitive. I believe that failing to understand this distinction between people is a huge innovation obstacle!

When everything becomes a toaster less is more

Incremental innovation can have transformational effects, but we must also understand the limits of pursuing further efficiencies.

Yesterday, I came across a post on Gizmodo about everyday products that were improved to be perfect. Just look at them, I know you’ll want to have a few of them. Though none of them are Apple products, Apple is probably the one company that any of us can point to that makes us crave their products.

Why?

Any talk of recent breakthrough innovations usually start with the iPhone, iPod and iPad. Yet what many don’t know is that Apple invented neither of them. Rather they, with their own point of view, made them accessible.

There are many factors that go into innovation adoption, one of them is timing, the other is the one most don’t get right. Our adoption of Apple products had to do with more than one thing, but the fact that they’ve made our interaction with technology as simple and seamless as possible is a big one. Whether or not Apple understood this from the beginning, it’s no secret that people gravitate towards simplicity.

But most businesses and people go for its common enemy: simplistic.

Here are the main differences between the two:

Why settle for average? Steal from the greats to be great

strategy as uniqueness

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nevenka/3061982219/

The challenge with copying uniqueness is that is takes a relentless commitment to excellence.

Whenever I’m asked about innovation, a list of names always comes up: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook.

Why, I always ask, are these the ones that always come up?

Nothing wrong with bringing up those companies, but surely, there are others. This is an issue when discussing innovation, because there is a very narrow view about what innovation looks like. And, when this gap in definition exists, people naturally look around for examples of what it looks like. They can’t imagine anything else.

Q&A: Ashley Verrill on how to get at-home workers engaged with the organization

remote workerThis is a Q&A is based on a recent article written by  Software Advice CRM Analyst Ashley Verrill about How Apple gets at-home workers to work. As you know, this is an important topic because it touches on importance of employee engagement and collaboration, which is extremely important for innovation.

Innovation lesson from Rockstar Games: Getting it right is more important than being first

grand theft auto 5

In an industry that has been declining in the last few years, Rockstar Games is always pushing boundaries. Whether it’s pushing the technological boundary of existing game consoles, utilizing storytelling, creating game mechanics that enhance game play; they’re the Christopher Nolan of the game industry.