Monday, November 02, 2015

Bran Ferren on the Art of Innovation
A celebrated proprietor of R&D ateliers explains how companies can cultivate the rare people who create miracles.
by Art Kleiner and Juliette Powell

This is a GREAT article to read. The following excerpts are intended to stoke your intreest…

As we teach in class, innovation is taking something new and bringing to use. Invention, is bringing something new into being.: the iPhone — a communications-centric computer, designed in the form of a smartphone. There wasn’t a lot of new invention involved in it. Instead, it brought together inventions that already existed, that had evolved independently of one another. I was not an insider, but we all know what was involved. It required a high-resolution display, bright enough to read, and lithium batteries that could provide enough power in a small enough size. It needed thermal and chemically tempered glass, which Corning had developed. It needed a multi-touch touchscreen, which meant the appropriate capacitive conductive screen technology. It needed wireless digital networks — cellular telephony, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi — but also the ability to surf the Internet. 
The iPhone and the Newton [Apple’s failed handheld device, released during the mid-1990s] essentially started with the same idea: a personal digital assistant. But the difference between them was profound, because the Newton existed without the Internet as we know it, and without voice and digital communications, and it was too big and heavy. A personal digital assistant that wasn’t networked was basically useless.
If you had shown them the iPhone 10 years ago and said, “This will be the future of how civilization works,” they would have said, “No, it won’t.” In fact, some companies looked at this space and elected not to pursue it.
This is because their innovation process doesn’t give their leadership a context for thinking about profound innovation. In a conventional company, an innovation process is often a substitution for creativity and thoughtfulness. Companies have come to us and asked for something like “disruptive innovation.” It is fashionable and they’ve read about it; they don’t know why they need it, but they hope it will help. However, they are seldom prepared to embrace what’s necessary to actually do this. 
They tell their engineers to think outside the box, and the engineers dutifully respond by immediately designing a new box. They take the boxes they’ve already got, the products and processes already with them, and they usually make those boxes brighter, shinier, lighter, and more efficient. The result is usually more of the same with incremental improvement at best. The business leaders are obsessed with getting the right answer, but they’re not willing to put the energy into making sure they’re asking the right questions. 
A good innovation process establishes context. It sets up a dialogue among the most capable people you can attract. So, should you have a revelation, you can recognize it and say, “That’s it!”…. 
… the heart of [the art of leading a company] is the ability to identify an idea, conceptualize it, bring a team of people together, execute it in a way that’s effective, and course-correct as you go. According to Steve, the iPhone was originally a tablet project. Partway through the R&D process, he said, “Hmm, we can make a phone out of this.” After the launch, many people rewrote history and said that the purpose of the iPhone was to reinvent the future of telephony. 
Suppose you had been at Research in Motion (RIM) — the creator of the BlackBerry — at that time, thinking about inventing the future of telephony, with no holds barred. Suppose you conducted market research with your most expert BlackBerry users and asked them, “What do you crave in a phone?” You would tell them to assume no boundaries or constraints, to just ask for something so great it would change their world.
What devoted BlackBerry user would have said, “Get rid of all the keys. Give me a screen three times as big, and it needs to be multimedia capable. I really need a music and video player, and multi-touch would be nice. I’d like one-third the battery life, and make sure that battery isn’t interchangeable, so when I run out of power, I can’t put in a new battery. Make it really thin, because I really care about thinness. And please give me apps (whatever they are), and I really need an online store where I can go buy those apps.”

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