Make eight mistakes a day

The HealthWorks! Kids’ Museum is a unit of Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Indiana and an organization truly focused on health care, not just illness care. In a recent profile, one employee cited the need for trial-and-error in the design of their education programs, “To innovate, we need to make at least eight mistakes a day.”

Open, Subsidized Innovation

The company suggestion box is growing in size and sophistication. Taking a cue from the software industry which subsidizes innovation by letting passionate customers beta test new products, companies like Bose are setting up forums for ideas. They recognize that innovation needs to be open, tapping creativity from inside and outside the organization.

The system that Bose is using, Informative, stresses the importance of the brand relationship. It’s interesting that they go for this softer, more ambiguous benefit than simply saying they help commpanies harvest more ideas. Though they do realize this is a conversation and not just direct mail in reverse…

Our real-time interactive communications tools allow us to engage large numbers of consumers in ongoing, concurrent dialogues, and our patented systems explore these conversations and consolidate actionable insights based on what your customers want and need right now, next month, next year and beyond.

From anger springs innovation, sometimes

Tom Peters in Re-Imagine!

For me business is personal, not an abstraction… I’m writing another book because I’m pissed off… I happen to believe that innovation comes not from market research or carefully crafted focus groups but from pissed off people….

Many people I’ve met who strive to be designers and innovators are driven by frustration with the world as it is, wanting to make it what it can (and should!) be. Anger acts as a useful driver for innovation; I know I nurture my inner fiestiness. But I also think anger acts as a hindrence to getting things done. You can’t always work angry, you can’t always communicate angry, and you can’t always lead angry.

Peters goes on to describe how innovation suffers when mostly well-intentioned people are thwarted by organizational barriers. True enough, but aren’t those organization barriers constructed of and by other people? Well-intentioned people get charged by inspirational ideas, but — my gut tells me –feel scared as hell to quit their own jobs and follow his advice. At some point the anger must turn into empathy in order to make progress. Fear of change and risk can be alleviated, but it requires more than anger or prodding.

There’s a function of emotional intelligence that must initially let the anger flow, and then when an idea has momentum the strong emotions should be channeled into more productive means. “I’m so angry and want to fix this stupid product/company so bad that I need to stop being angry and start understanding. I need to look for commonalities with people who act differently and find whichever approach is right for the situation to make progress.

How a competitive stance blocks innovation

W. Chan Kim and Ren̩e Mauborgne in Think for yourself Рstop copying a rival make a great case for reducing the focus on competition and refocusing on innovation:

Assisted by new means to analyse competitors and influence their behaviour, companies [in the 1980’s] placed competition at the centre of strategic thinking, where it has remained ever since. But should organisations be motivated in this way? Our research suggests not. Focusing on building competitive advantages detracts from reshaping old industries, driving young industries to new frontiers and building entirely new industries. It blocks creativity.

I experienced this first-hand years ago while working on a project alongside one of the big management consulting firms. They had morphed the best practices mantra into a design method, aggregating disparate features of the competitors products into our product, and viola — this would somehow result in a cohesive whole that would trump the competition.

Seth Godin says, “The reason it’s so hard to follow the leader is this: The leader is the leader precisely because he did something remarkable. And that remarkable thing is now taken — so it’s no longer remarkable when you decide to do it.

Steve Jobs on managing for innovation

From an interview in BusinessWeek

On motives:

…motives make so much difference. …our primary goal here is to make the world’s best PCs — not to be the biggest or the richest. We have a second goal, which is to always make a profit — both to make some money but also so we can keep making those great products. For a time, those goals got flipped at Apple, and that subtle change made all the difference. When I got back, we had to make it a product company again.

On creating a design culture:

You need a very product-oriented culture, even in a technology company. Lots of companies have tons of great engineers and smart people. But ultimately, there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together. Otherwise, you can get great pieces of technology all floating around the universe. But it doesn’t add up to much.

…and losing it:

Some very good product people invent some very good products, and the company achieves a monopoly. But after that, the product people aren’t the ones that drive the company forward anymore. It’s the marketing guys…
And who usually ends up running the show? The sales guy. John Akers at IBM is the consummate example. Then one day, the monopoly expires for whatever reason. But by then the best product people have left, or they’re no longer listened to. And so the company goes through this tumultuous time, and it either survives or it doesn’t.

On juggling:

I did everything in the early days — documentation, sales, supply chain, sweeping the floors, buying chips, you name it. I put computers together with my own two hands…. Not everyone knows it, but three months after I came back to Apple, my chief operating guy quit. I couldn’t find anyone internally or elsewhere that knew as much as he did, or as I did. So I did that job for nine months.

On systematizing innovation:

The system is that there is no system. That doesn’t mean we don’t have process… But that’s not what it’s about. Process makes you more efficient. But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea… And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.

On the company story:

When I got back here, Apple had forgotten who we were. Remember that “Think Different” ad campaign we ran? It was certainly for customers to some degree, but it was even more for Apple itself.

You can tell a lot about a person by who his or her heroes are. That ad was to remind us of who our heroes are and who we are. We forgot that for a while. Companies sometimes forget who they are. Sometimes they remember again, and sometimes they don’t.

PBS series on innovation

They Made America is a four-part series in November:

American history is filled with the stories of influential innovators, whose ideas and entrepreneurial spirit gave birth to commercial milestones like the steamboat and cultural touchstones like the Barbie doll. Twelve of these individuals are profiled in They Made America, a four-part television series from the producers of American Experience.