blog by Alexander Kwapis



Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things


Relatively speaking, not that much stuff.

A popular thought on human psychology, of the cocktail-party-chatter variety, is that “People don’t regret the things they do; they regret the things they didn’t do.” It’s probably true for the ailing bed-rider who passed on an 18th-birthday bungie-jumping trip, but not so true in the world of industrial design.

"It’s extraordinary," writes communications coach Carmine Gallo inForbes, “to think that the world’s top brand has a product portfolio that could fit on a small table.” Gallo is referring to Apple, whose product line-up seems to be inversely proportional to the size to its profits, and serves as a good example of the things they didn’t do.

Gallo is the author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success and reveals a Jobs quote that explains Apple’s relatively tiny number of products. (In anotherForbes article on Apple’s retail stores, Gallo points out that when the stores were first conceived, pre-iPod, Apple had just four major products to fill it with—two laptops and two desktops.) 

According to Steve Jobs, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”

Read the full article here.



30 Second MBA - Leyl Black, Sparkpr - How do you know innovation when you see it?



The Seven Deadly Sins That Choke Out Innovation

Even companies serious about innovation can fall victim to their own, well-meaning creative process.

In most companies, there’s a profound tension between the right-brainers (for lack of a better term) espousing design, design thinking and user-centered approaches to innovation and the left-brained, more spreadsheet-minded among us. Most C-suites are dominated by the latter, all of whom are big fans of nice neat processes and who pay good money to get them implemented rigorously. So often, the innovation process is treated as a simple, neat little machine. Put in a little cash and install the right process, and six months later, out pops your new game-changing innovation — just like toast, right from the toaster. But that, of course, is wrong.

Last night, Ryan Jacoby, the heads of IDEO’s New York practice, gave a talk at NYU/Poly with just that tension in mind, titled Leading Innovation: Process Is No Substitute. Jacoby’s point: processes are all well and good, but they don’t guarantee innovation, and in some cases they might even provide a false sense of security. Ryan outlined what he described as the Seven Deadly Sins of innovation, which I’m sure will ring true for most people who’ve worked on such projects. They are:

1: Thinking the answer is in here, rather than out there

“We all get chained to our desks and caught up in email,” he said. “But the last time I looked, no innovation answers were coming over my Blackberry.” You have to get outside of the office, outside of the conference room and be open to innovation answers from unexpected places. Ryan makes himself take a photograph every day on the way to work, as a challenge to remember to look around him.

2: Talking about it rather than building it

This one related to the last. At least here in the U.S., we live in a land of meetings and memos and lots and lots of discussion. Sometimes it’s more than possible that all this talk might prevent us from, well, actually doing anything. He gave a great example of an idea to bring “fun into finance”, and showed a mocked up scenario of a guy buying a pair of sneakers, at which point a virtual avatar danced on his credit card. Practical? Not the point. The unpolished prototype motivated the team and got them thinking differently.

3: Executing when we should be exploring

“This is huge for management types,” he said, going on to warn of the problem of trying to nail down a project way too early in the timeframe. “Who’s exploring? Who’s executing? Where is everyone in process?”

4: Being smart

“If you’re scared to be wrong, you won’t be able to lead innovation or lead the innovation process,” he said. This is huge. Innovation is all about discussing new ideas that currently have no place in the real world. If you’re only comfortable talking about things that *don’t* strike you as alien, chances are you’re not talking about real innovation.

5: Being impatient for the wrong things

Innovation takes time, but too often executives expect unrealistic results at an unrealistic clip. Be explicit about the impact that you expect.

6: Confusing cross-functionality with diverse viewpoints

IDEO is an inter-disciplinary firm, mixing up employees with a whole host of backgrounds. That’s critical to ensuring a better chance at innovation — and it’s far different from teams that simply mix up functions. “Diversity is key for innovation,” said Mr J.

7: Believing process will save you

Here, Ryan showed a great image of vendors touting their wares at the Front End of Innovation conference in Boston. His point: you can’t simply buy your way to a soaring innovation strategy. Some of these products might be useful, sure, but they’re no substitute for real thought leadership. Having an innovation process is fine, but it’s not a guarantee of success even if it does produce some tangible product at the end. Or, as he put it, “learn the process, execute the process, and then lead within it.”

[Image by Bob Jagendorf]

Helen Walters


Helen Walters is a New York City-based business and design journalist with experience writing, editing and publishing content across multiple platforms, online and offline. Th… Read more

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User-Led Innovation Can’t Create Breakthroughs; Just Ask Apple and Ikea


Companies should lead their users, not the other way around.

The user is king. It’s a phrase that’s repeated over and over again as a mantra: Companies must become user-centric. But there’s a problem: It doesn’t work. Here’s the truth: Great brands lead users, not the other way around.

The Apple and IKEA way

Take Apple. One evening, well into the night, we asked some of our friends on the Apple design team about their view of user-centric design. Their answer? “It’s all bullshit and hot air created to sell consulting projects and to give insecure managers a false sense of security. At Apple, we don’t waste our time asking users, we build our brand through creating great products we believe people will love.”

Another hyper-growth brand, IKEA, has the same belief. One of us had the privilege of working closely with IKEA’s global brand and design leaders; at IKEA the unspoken philosophy is: “We show people the way.” IKEA designers don’t use user studies or user insights to create their products. When I asked them why, they said “We tried and it didn’t work.”

Of course, neither Apple nor IKEA will say this publicly since they are both extremely closed companies and would risk offending users (and the design community) by speaking out against user-centeredness.

And since no one will speak up, the false value of the user-as-leader has spread.

Be a Visionary

If users can’t tell a company what to do, what should companies do instead? The best brands are all guided by a clear vision for the world, a unique set of values, and a culture that makes them truly unique and that no user insights could ever change.

They define their own rules.The vision must come first. This could come from the client, designers, a team, an organization, or a design leader. It needs to be clear and applied consistently over the project.

Create an icon

The same goes for truly extraordinary products, the icons of the world. There are three types of iconic products and none of them are made through user-driven design.

Democratic Icons

These could also be termed “slow” icons. These products take a long time to become icons. They are usually of plain or simple design, created to fulfill a certain function, such as the paper clip, tea bags, potato peelers, and the mailbox, all of which are valued for their functionality, rather than their aesthetics. Over time, users become attached to them and eventually, these products gain so much meaning that they start to gain cultural currency and layers of connotations. These icons are generally easily available.

Design Icons

This is when a familiar product such as a chair or a car whose design is particularly shape-driven will get a makeover, with an innovative design that alters the look of this familiar object. The first reaction of the mass audience is often negative, claiming the object “looks weird.” But over time, the audience adapts to the change and comes to love the product for its personality; it attains cultural relevance and becomes iconic. Hans Wegner’s Y-chair and the Aeron chair are typical examples of design classics that were adopted late.

Instant Icons

Instant may be familiar products or offer a familiar function like the design icons, but something about their design that make them essentially new products. They open new markets and create new demand—just think of the Polaroid camera, the Sony Walkman, the Flip Camera, the Blackberry, and the Apple iPod.

Why it’s harmful to listen to the users

But can’t you create radical new products based on what the user wants? Why do the most innovative brands not care about what users want?

Users insights can’t predict future demand

The demand for something fundamentally new is completely unpredictable. Even the users themselves have no idea if they will like an entirely product before they start using it (and maybe, only after years of use). Demand for something new cannot be predicted.

The world is driven forward by improbable, high-impact events, both negative and positive: September 11th, the subprime crisis, or the explosive rise of social media. These events completely changed the world and were difficult to predict—perhaps a few individuals saw a glimpse of the future, but the majority of people were totally unprepared. It’s the same with new products and brands—you can’t foresee what will be successful.

This is a very scary thought for most business leaders, but the good news is that there are ways to deal with it. All creative industries are dependent on the constant launch of radically new products. And the music, movie, publishing, and fashion industries have tried to find stability in a sea of unpredictability by constantly putting out new products and seeing what sticks.

They have learned to hire the best and the most creative people in the world (whether it’s directors, music producers, or authors), worked hard to launch a broad portfolio of products and to speed up the time it takes their products to reach the market.

User-centered processes stifles creativity

Could you imagine Steven Spielberg starting out new film projects with intense user studies and insights? Not really. There is a reason why Spielberg and all other profoundly creative people don’t work in a user-centered way. The user-centered process is created as linear rational process for innovation and that’s why it’s so popular among managers.

But as studies of successful innovations and creativity shows, creating something new is a chaotic, unpredictable, frustrating, and very, very hard process. And most of all, it’s the result of extraordinary efforts and visions of a few extremely talented people. These creative people will feel limited and bored, not inspired, if they have to start out a creative process with a lot of user knowledge. Their inspiration comes from a multiple of sources and is highly individual.

Creating a formula will always be in vain and won’t result in something really new.

User focus makes companies miss out on disruptive innovations

Focusing on users will lead companies to make incremental innovations that typically tend to make the products more expensive and complicated and ironically, in the long run, less competitive.

Radical innovations typically gain traction in the margins of a market and the majority of customers (at least in the beginning) will dislike change. If a company bases their decisions on user studies, they will conclude that most radically new innovations are not rational to pursue. This often means that companies miss out on new growth markets that can end up eventually eliminating their business.

The same logic applies to branding. A company will always go for very small incremental changes in their branding efforts if they base their decision on user input. In the short run, minor changes pleases their users. In the long run, it means the big brand will be run over by bolder, often smaller, and more innovative brands that redefine an industry.

User-led design leads to sameness

Even if user insights were useful, it isn’t a competitive advantage. Even the most advanced users studies are now widely available. Most companies have conducted these studies and they have had the same insights about their users as you have. Therefore, product strategies based on studies will tend to be similar to their competitors. The result is a sea of sameness.

This isn’t a theoretical point—most industries are characterized by very similar products and brand positions, partially because companies have listened too much to their users. Branding is really about differentiation, about standing out. User centeredness leads to the opposite, similarity.

It’s time for brands to step up and trust themselves again.


Written by Jens Martin Skibsted and Rasmus Bech Hansen.

Rasmus Bech Hansen is a senior partner at Kontrapunkt, a brand and design consultancy, and a sough-after conference speaker and TV commentator.

Jens Martin Skibsted is founding partner of KiBiSi and Biomega. He is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and Global Agenda Council on Design member, and one of the 40 Under 40 chosen by I.D. Magazine. In 2009, he co-founded the product design group KiBiSi with Lars Holme Larsen and Bjarke Ingels.

[Top image via Flipboard]



State of the Union. Jan 25 2011

State of the Union. Jan 25 2011



I saw Steven Johnson speak at the Dallas Museum of Art back in October about his new book Where Do Good Ideas Come From. Here is a short blurb overlaid with a cool animation of what he discussed about innovation. -AK

One of our most innovative, popular thinkers takes on-in exhilarating style-one of our key questions: Where do good ideas come from?

With Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson pairs the insight of his bestselling Everything Bad Is Good for You and the dazzling erudition of The Ghost Map and The Invention of Air to address an urgent and universal question: What sparks the flash of brilliance? How does groundbreaking innovation happen? Answering in his infectious, culturally omnivorous style, using his fluency in fields from neurobiology to popular culture, Johnson provides the complete, exciting, and encouraging story of how we generate the ideas that push our careers, our lives, our society, and our culture forward.

Beginning with Charles Darwin’s first encounter with the teeming ecosystem of the coral reef and drawing connections to the intellectual hyperproductivity of modern megacities and to the instant success of YouTube, Johnson shows us that the question we need to ask is, What kind of environment fosters the development of good ideas? His answers are never less than revelatory, convincing, and inspiring as Johnson identifies the seven key principles to the genesis of such ideas, and traces them across time and disciplines.

Most exhilarating is Johnson’s conclusion that with today’s tools and environment, radical innovation is extraordinarily accessible to those who know how to cultivate it. Where Good Ideas Come From is essential reading for anyone who wants to know how to come up with tomorrow’s great ideas.