27 August, 2009

You can't innovate like Apple!

Really insightful article. Some excerpts below. Full article here.
When what you teach and develop every day has the title “Innovation” attached to it, you reach a point where you tire of hearing about Apple. Without question, nearly everyone believes the equation Apple = Innovation is a fundamental truth. Discover what makes them different. By Alain Breillatt.
Apple “wraps great ideas inside great ideas,” and the whole experience is linked as the present concept traces concentric circles from the core outward. Apple’s OS X operating system is the present waiting inside its sleek, beautiful hardware; its hardware is the present, artfully unveiled from inside the gorgeous box; the box is the present, waiting for your sticky little hands inside its museum-like Apple stores.

Pixel-perfect mockups are critical. This is hard work and requires an enormous amount of time, but is necessary to give the complete feeling for the entire product. There is no “Lorem Ipsum” used as filler for content, either. At least one of the senior managers refuses to look at any mockups that contain such “Greek” filler. Doing this detailed mockup removes all ambiguity—everyone knows and can see and critique how the final product looks. It also means you will not encounter interpretative changes by the designer or engineer after the review, as they are filling in the content—something I have seen happen time and time again. Ultimately, it means no one can feign surprise when they see the real thing.

10 to 3 to 1. Take the pixel-perfect approach and pile on top of it the requirement that Apple designers expect to design 10 different mockups of any new feature under consideration. And these are not just crappy mockups; they all represent different, but really good, implementations that are faithful to the product specifications.
Then, by using specified criteria, they narrow these 10 ideas down to three options, which the team spends months further developing…until they finally narrow down to the one final concept that truly represents their best work for production.
This approach is intended to offer enormous latitude for creativity that breaks past restrictions. But it also means they inherently plan to throw away 90% of the work they do. I don’t know many organizations for which this would be an acceptable ratio. Your CFO would probably declare, “All I see is money going down the drain.” This is a major reason why I say you can’t innovate like Apple.

Paired design meetings. Every week, the teams of engineers and designers get together for two complementary meetings.

1. Apple does not do market research. This is straight from Jobs’ mouth: We do no market research. They scoff at the notion of target markets, and they don’t conduct focus groups. Why? Because everything Apple designs is based on Jobs’ and his team’s perceptions of what they think is cool.
“It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do. So you can’t go out and ask people, you know, what’s the next big [thing.] There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’’’

2. Apple has a very small team who designs their major products. Look at Ive and his team of a dozen to 20 designers who are the brains behind the genius products that Apple has delivered to the market since the iMac back in 1998.

3. Apple owns their entire system. They are completely independent of reliance on anyone else to provide inputs to the design and development of their products. They own the OS, they own the software, and they own the hardware.

4. Apple focuses on a select group of products. Apple acts like a small boutique and develops beautiful, artistic products in a manner that makes it very difficult to scale up to broad and extensive product lines. Part of this is due to the level of attention to detail provided by their small teams of designers and engineers. To think that a multi-billion dollar company only has 30 major products is astounding, because their neighbors at that level of revenues have thousands of products.

5. Apple has a maniacal focus on perfection. They say Jobs had the marble for the floor at the New York Apple store shipped to California first so he could examine the veins. He also complained about the chamfer radius on the plastic case of an early prototype of the Macintosh.

So is it possible for you to innovate like Apple?

So given all this, what is a company to do if they want to innovate like Apple? First, forget about it unless you are willing to invest significantly and heavily to establish a culture of innovation like Apple’s. Because it’s not just about copying Apple’s approach and procedures. The vast majority of executives who say, “I want to be just like Apple,” have no idea what it really takes to achieve that level of success. What they’re saying is they want to be adored by their customers, they want to launch sexy products that cause the press to fall all over themselves, and they want to experience incredible financial growth. But they generally want to do it on the cheap.

You need to know your customer and your market.
Jobs and team can get away with not doing market research, identifying target markets, or going out and talking with customers because of the markets they play in and the cult-like customers who adore them. Most technology companies also believe they can get away with this—and most technology companies get it wrong.
Because you’re not Apple and you are likely not selling a similar set of products, you must do research to understand the customer. And, while I’m sure Jobs says he doesn’t do research, it’s pretty clear that his team goes out to thoroughly study behaviors and interests of those they think will be their early adopters. Call it talking to friends and family; but, honestly, you know that these guys live by immersing themselves in the hip culture of music, video, mobile, and computing.

You need the right people, and you need to reward them.
The designers at Apple are paid 50% more than their counterparts at other organizations. These designers aren’t working at Apple simply because they’re paid more. They stay at Apple because of the amazing things they get to do there. Rewards are about salary and benefits, but they are also about recognition and being able to do satisfying work that challenges the mind and allows the creative muscles to stretch.