Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Innovation for the sake of Innovation" - Does it really help?

Below is an yet another interesting remark in the book- "Inside steve's brain"

When asked by Rob Walker, a New York Times reporter, if he ever consciously thinks about innovation, Jobs responded "No. We consciously think about making great products. We don't think, 'Lets’ be innovative! Lets take a class! Here are the five rules of innovation, let’s put them up all over the company!" Jobs said trying to systemize innovation is "Like somebody who's not cool trying to be cool. It's painful to watch...Its like watching Michael Dell try to dance. Painful."
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Well, i see pearls of wisdom existing in above statement about Innovation. In most of the organizations, the employees are "asked" to be innovative or are given training on how to be innovative. (To be clear, i have nothing against such trainings in general.) How many times have you heard the statements like-

"You should have found the creative solution"
"Why cant you think a bit more innovatively to solve the underlying problem ?"
"Lets think out of box"
"Please think of creative test ideas"
"Try and think beyond boundaries and solve the problem at hand"

After reading Steve Jobs' notion about Innovation, it really makes me wonder whether the above statements about "trying" to make an individual innovative really had a profound effect. Did it really change the world ? Hearing these statements- does it really raises one's Innovativeness quotient ?

Every time I think, the answer is more leaned towards a "No". While encouragement and motivation are required in any situation, but per my experience an individual does not really become creative by a constant push from someone or by some sort of weekly training. I believe at the root of every innovation or a discovery (no matter how small it may be) is a burning desire to do something or make a difference. In the case of Jobs' it is that inherent desire to make great products. If a deep passion is missing, no matter what anyone says- Innovative ideas will cease to exist or die after a short burst.

From my profession, a tester will be genuinely creative only if he desires to and takes immense pride in releasing products that the customers can use with ease and without issues. It is this desire (apart from necessary skills) that will drive him to regularly come up with test ideas that matter.
If for innovation sake, somebody gives a direction to tester to find creative test ideas- it will lead to directionless Innovation, which is often a waste of time and resources.

Citing another instance from the same book below.

Wanton Innovation is wasteful. There must be a direction, something to pull it all together. Some Silicon Valley companies develop new technologies and then go in search of problems for those technologies to solve. Take the Internet bubble of late 1990s. The bubble was defined by this kind of thinking. It was a carnival of worthless innovation- half-baked business ideas pumped into vast money-burning concerns in a misguided attempt to get big quick and beat the competition.

Do drop in your comments!


Vittal said...

Hi Anuj,

Again thanks for sharing such wonderful words of wisdom.

My personal view is, a deep passion to excel in what ever we do leads to innovation. A relentless desire to make the best of what we do.

If the focus is on just staying ahead of our competitors, than we are merely occupied by the thought of surpassing the competitor and not look beyond it, but if the desire is to make "The Best", then surpassing our competition is merely a milestone.


Anuj Magazine said...

Hi Vittal,

If the focus is on just staying ahead of our competitors, than we are merely occupied by the thought of surpassing the competitor and not look beyond it, but if the desire is to make "The Best", then surpassing our competition is merely a milestone.

When we talk about Innovation and its relation to competitors, there's an interesting aspect represented in Are you helping your competitors succeed ? This article brings altogether a different and unique approach to Innovation, in which helping the competitor win is a central aspect of Innovation. Isnt it amazing ? Does the concept sound absurd ? Probably, its not but it just challenges the conventional thinking paradigms about Innovation and competition.

I think to a large extent this concept (for letting competitor win) hold good in a workplace. Helping your colleagues (some call it competitors) to do well, to innovate not only creates the win-win situation for the team but also the project and the organization overall. In my experience, its very hard for an individual to imagine how much can be achieved personally and organization wide, if one stops thinking about who gets the credit for a certain work that needs to be done. Team up with a colleague of yours and try it out. The end result might just amaze you and those around you.


Vittal said...

Hi Anuj,

Thanks for replying.

About "If the focus is on just staying ahead of our competitors, than we are merely occupied by the thought of surpassing the competitor and not look beyond it, but if the desire is to make "The Best", then surpassing our competition is merely a milestone."

Let me rephrase, as per me, for a job to get completed, there are two ways of doing it.

1. How best i can do this job.
2. The best way of doing the given job.

The 1st way may or may not be the perfect way, but given individual skill set, each person will try to do it his best way.

The 2nd is the best way a job can be done.

Either way in doing so, an individual involved is pushed to his limits in producing his best work (more so in the 2nd case).

If the goal is being the best of what we do, we will improvise to reach that perfect state (though there is no perfect state as such, as perfection is a perception).

Taking the case of i-pod, when Apple designed it, the references where never drawn from already market occupying gadgets and music player. Apple dint wanted to be just better than Sony or Samsung but Apple was on a Quest to create the best in Music Player and they did it.

Thanks for sharing the other blog link on “Are you helping your competitors succeed ? “ , I must agree this is a definitely a new way of looking at things.
I however feel the under lying principle of “be the best” still holds good in the corn farmer example, but definitely the way mentioned is really new and takes a while to sink in.
About Competitors, as per me, they can be defined in two ways.
1. My company competitors who compete in producing similar products that my company is working on and in particular I am working on.
It was with reference to this when I mentioned that, when a company designs a product, it should try design the best.
I do understand the beauty of “Helping your competitors win”, but how true it is in Tech World. I can see only “Open Source” Software possibly being one of the answers to this.

2. Looking at colleagues as competitors, hmm well I never looked at my colleagues as competitors but as per me they are your associates in achieving success.
Let me share my experience, I been working with a team which shares learning, responsibility and risk and supports and backs each other. The goal is always clear, to have the best working environment.
This has definitely given us great results. I believe this is one of the good ways to work with colleagues if not the best.
But again, Team management should also need to be matured to appreciate the beauty of such working dynamics of a team. Individuals and as well as the Team as a whole needs to be supported and recognized for their efforts.
An individual is successful only because of the team which is backing him and vis-à-vis also.

Thanks again