Innovation the Apple Way

AppleThe Economist has a short article on four lessons on innovation we can learn from Apple. The four lessons are fairly standard fare at this point (but still difficult to actually do), but take on a slightly different hue when viewed in the context of Apple.

  1. “…innovation can come from without as well as within.” While Apple can seem like a place full of solitary mad scientists locked away in labs, the reality is that “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.”
  2. Design “new products around the needs of the user, not the demands of the technology.”
  3. “Listening to customers is generally a good idea, but it is not the whole story.” “…smart companies should sometimes ignore what the market says it wants today.”
  4. “Fail wisely.”

As I said, you’ve heard these before, but think about 3 and 4. Apple has really made it’s name bringing people things they didn’t know they wanted, but soon couldn’t live without, from the GUI operating system to the iPod (ridiculed at launch). This is one of the more difficult decisions in business – knowing when your new product will be embraced by consumers or if it’s value proposition was never revealed as a desire in market research because, well, it’s not desired. This leads into the fourth point – fail wisely.

We always hear that we must be prepared to fail (although we rarely are), but with Apple that failure has taken on much greater proportions. Remember Lisa, the music phone, and NeXT? Yikes! They were failures. Failures so big they almost brought the company down (NeXT, of course, was a failing Steve Jobs company that Apple acquired for its technology). Ideally, when we’re told to “embrace failure,” we’d like to think we’re embracing smaller failures. It’s unusual, if not impossible, to find a truly innovative company without it’s share of failures. Finding a way to fail small, while leaving the door open to succeeding big, is the trick.

One thought on “Innovation the Apple Way

  1. An argument for No. 3: No one was walking around saying “I really need a small, digital personal music player full of music I can download from my computer.” In fact, if Apple had asked people, they’d have probably heard that sounds too technologically daunting, that people liked their Walkman.
    Same with the DVR and a zillion other inventions we didn’t know we needed until we realized we couldn’t live without them.

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