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January 10, 2006

The Art of Innovation

I'm getting tired of writing about lies, so today I'm covering truths. Specifically, the truths of innovation. I hold these truths to not be self-evident; hence we see so little innovation.

  1. Jump to the next curve. Too many companies duke it out on the same curve. If they were daisy wheel printer companies, they think innovation means adding Helvetica in 24 points. Instead, they should invent laser printing. True innovation happens when a company jumps to the next curve--or better still, invents the next curve, so set your goals high.
  2. Don't worry, be crappy. An innovator doesn't worry about shipping an innovative product with elements of crappiness if it's truly innovative. The first permutation of a innovation is seldom perfect--Macintosh, for example, didn't have software (thanks to me), a hard disk (it wouldn't matter with no software anyway), slots, and color. If a company waits--for example, the engineers convince management to add more features--until everything is perfect, it will never ship, and the market will pass it by.
  3. Churn, baby, churn. I'm saying it's okay to ship crap--I'm not saying that it's okay to stay crappy. A company must improve version 1.0 and create version 1.1, 1.2, ... 2.0. This is a difficult lesson to learn because it's so hard to ship an innovation; therefore, the last thing employees want to deal with is complaints about their perfect baby. Innovation is not an event. It's a process.
  4. Don't be afraid to polarize people. Most companies want to create the holy grail of products that appeals to every demographic, social-economic background, and geographic location. To attempt to do so guarantees mediocrity. Instead, create great DICEE products that make segments of people very happy. And fear not if these products make other segments unhappy. The worst case is to incite no passionate reactions at all, and that happens when companies try to make everyone happy.
  5. Break down the barriers. The way life should work is that innovative products are easy to sell. Dream on. Life isn't fair. Indeed, the more innovative, the more barriers the status quo will erect in your way. Entrepreneurs should understand this upfront and not get flustered when market acceptance comes slowly. I've found that the best way to break barriers is enable people to test drive your innovation: download your software, take home your hardware, whatever it takes.
  6. “Let a hundred flowers blossom.” I stole this from Chairman Mao. Innovators need to be flexible about how people use their products. Avon created Skin So Soft to soften skin, but when parents used it as an insect repellant, Avon went with the flow. Apple thought it created a spreadsheet/database/wordprocessing computer; but, come to find out, customers used it as a desktop publishing machine. The lesson is: Don't be proud. Let a hundred flowers blossom.
  7. Think digital, act analog. Thinking digital means that companies should use all the digital tools at its disposal--computers, web sites, instruments, whatever--to create great products. But companies should act analog--that is, they must remember that the purpose of innovation is not cool products and cool technologies but happy people. Happy people is a decidedly analog goal.
  8. Never ask people to do what you wouldn't do. This is a great test for any company. Suppose a company invents the world's greatest mousetrap. It murders mice better than anything in the history of mankind--in fact, it's nuclear powered. The problem is that the customer needs a PhD to set it, it costs $500,000, and has to drop off the dead, radioactive mouse 500 miles away in the middle of the desert. No one at the company would jump through those hoops--it shouldn't expect customers to either.
  9. Don't let the bozos grind you down. The bozos will tell a company that what it's doing can't be done, shouldn't be done, and isn't necessary. Some bozos are clearly losers--they're the ones who are easy to ignore. The dangerous ones are rich, famous, and powerful--because they are so successful, innovators may think they are right. They're not right; they're just successful on the previous curve so they cannot comprehend, much less embrace, the next curve.

Written at: Marriott Hotel, San Francisco, California

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Comments

I think #2 (Don't worry, be crappy), deserves some clarification. There are two axes of crappiness: missing features and bugs. Guy, I'm pretty sure you're talking about missing features here, as those are your examples. Certainly any 1.0 product won't have all the features you want. Trouble is, you don't know which features your customers will really use, so you don't always know what features you're missing. But if your 1.0 is riddled with bugs, that's a whole separate ball of wax. Customers will quickly discard your product and probably never consider buying 1.1 or 2.0.
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I think Apple's Pages 1.0 is a good example. They were going after established markets (word processing, page layout) with an innovative approach, but the product lacked some important features. People tried it and commented on the features they couldn't live without -- valuable information to Apple. While Pages 1.0 may not have revolutionized the markets it was going for, it was at least a quality product. I never had it crash on me, or saw wide-spread reports of it crashing on others. This is a good set-up for Pages 2.0, which may now have enough features to get traction with a broader user base. (I'd go for it if Apple did upgrade pricing for existing customers.)

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Your post is reminiscent of Rules for Revolutionaries, which you signed for me at Seybold SF 1998 while I was still an employee. At first, I didn't understand why the whole thing was written with what appeared to be jargon. Then life took an interesting turn and I lived the life of folding-chair-and-banquet-table-as-desk, wondering where the rent money and the food were coming from as we ate like birds and crapped like elephants, finding that eventually, the good ideas do stick, and the book made some great sense as I lived the entrepreneur's life you described. Thanks for the inspiration,Guy. I have appreciated them in the middle of some unbelievable times.
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I believe one source of innovation is everyday life. I recently found a great site called NewIdeaPedia.com. This site let's you read about small business ideas and product ideas submitted by others. You can also submit your own ideas.

Does anybody know of a highly innovative location to hold a workshop in the Bay Area? Recently I was in Chicago at a wonderful facility called Catalyst Ranch, and I have been hoping to find a similar venue in San Francisco. Thanks for any thoughts.

guy,
great commandments. 8th is missing:
"innovation (=product) is just the form of an idea": make sure everybody involved really understands it and stays as close as possible to it during the to-market-time and after.

A recent reports that in the next 10 years, 110-130 million Indian citizens will be searching for jobs, including 80-100 million looking for their first jobs.Add up china and u have a billion potential innovators...isnt it time for u to look out of stanford and MIT?

#9 (No one at the company would jump through those hoops -- it shouldn't expect customers to either).

Does it mean that a desire to create a product that you will definitely use yourself is an indicator of a successful project?

There is the third catagory which Guy hasn't mentioned who are neither losers nor innovators, they are, well, stuck in the middle with a certain security and have slid into bozosity quietly with the masses. Sometimes they think they are mobile and ready to adapt to all situations, but when push comes to shove they will stay in the herd. This promotes a mentality which is difficult to rise above. Not impossible but a little like dragging a tyre out of molasses.

Guy, I ask You as at the expert.
That You think of the following:

www.I-eGod.com - First site in style of Web 3.0

I think to become a Neuron.
It would be interesting to receive Your advice.

I read about: http://www.i-egod.blogspot.com

A wonderful post. In addition to Chairman Mao's pearls of wisdom, point #1 probably covers the most significant barrier to innovation. Too often technology companies forget that incremental development is not the same as innovation.

"Break down the barriers" is definately interesting.

good thought!!!

Thanks a bunch for the advice. Now this is useful!

Remember that people are the heart of your business. You make something they like and you have yourself a market. Keep people at the centre of your innovation cycle and make sure they are there from the beginning. Then everyone you touch will have a good story to tell that is just about YOU.

Guy. So quotable.

I think #2 (Don't worry, be crappy), deserves some clarification. There are two axes of crappiness: missing features and bugs. Guy, I'm pretty sure you're talking about missing features here, as those are your examples. Certainly any 1.0 product won't have all the features you want. Trouble is, you don't know which features your customers will really use, so you don't always know what features you're missing. But if your 1.0 is riddled with bugs, that's a whole separate ball of wax. Customers will quickly discard your product and probably never consider buying 1.1 or 2.0.

I think Apple's Pages 1.0 is a good example. They were going after established markets (word processing, page layout) with an innovative approach, but the product lacked some important features. People tried it and commented on the features they couldn't live without -- valuable information to Apple. While Pages 1.0 may not have revolutionized the markets it was going for, it was at least a quality product. I never had it crash on me, or saw wide-spread reports of it crashing on others. This is a good set-up for Pages 2.0, which may now have enough features to get traction with a broader user base. (I'd go for it if Apple did upgrade pricing for existing customers.)

Your post is reminiscent of Rules for Revolutionaries, which you signed for me at Seybold SF 1998 while I was still an employee. At first, I didn't understand why the whole thing was written with what appeared to be jargon. Then life took an interesting turn and I lived the life of folding-chair-and-banquet-table-as-desk, wondering where the rent money and the food were coming from as we ate like birds and crapped like elephants, finding that eventually, the good ideas do stick, and the book made some great sense as I lived the entrepreneur's life you described. Thanks for the inspiration,Guy. I have appreciated them in the middle of some unbelievable times.

the purpose of innovation is not cool products and cool technologies but happy people.

I really like that suggestion.

The art of Innovation- #9 is spot on.

Ready for the next curve of invention!

Thanks for the article Guy!

AP

I think #7 would make more sense if it were reversed, i.e. Act Digital, Think Analog. That is, use digital technologies to achieve the goals of making people happy.

A wonderful post. In addition to Chairman Mao's pearls of wisdom, point #1 probably covers the most significant barrier to innovation. Too often technology companies forget that incremental development is not the same as innovation.

Outstanding rules Guy! Thanks for inspiring us all to be more innovative and less boring!

Just at the point of your getting tired of writing about ties, I am getting tired of reading about lies. Great posts!

Check out my blogs. I write blogs when I have nothing to say and read blogs when I have nothing to do :-) .

Sometimes the bozo is yourself.

OK, lovin' this one - it's diluted my fear (see my post to top 10 lies of VC's). Ready, fire, aim.

Written near Molly Stone's in beautiful San Bruno.

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