The art of innovation – ten surefire strategies

Watch video of Guy Kawasaki’s presentation on The Art of Innovation

Type of file: Windows Media Video. Length: 20.12 minutes


“Don’t let the bozos grind you down, especially the successful ones” is a crucial piece of advice author, venture capitalist, success coach and Mac evangelist Guy Kawasaki extends to potential innovators, especially those in the information technology (IT) sector.

In a presentation peppered with humour and replete with personal anecdotes, Kawasaki offered a more than 3,000-strong audience at the SAS Global Forum 2007 in Orlando last week several strategies for creating innovative products and services.

Many of Kawasaki’s eight books – which include titles such as The Art of Start, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Selling the Dream, Rules for Revolutionaries, The Macintosh Way, and How To Drive Your Competition Crazy – explore the theme of innovation.

During his SAS keynote, Kawasaki crystallized his insights on the subject into a 10-point “Art of Innovation” game plan that features several strategies tested out in the laboratory of his own life.

Buck the bozos

But apart from smart strategies, he said would-be innovators need the right mindset, one resilient to put-downs and other enthusiasm suppressants from even well-meaning bozos.

Kawasaki cited several examples of what he called “monstrous bozosity”, ranging from an observation attributed to IBM chairman Thomas Watson in 1943 (“I think there’s a world market for maybe five computers”), to the Western Union president’s suggestion in the 1870s that the telephone is a useless “electrical toy”, to an opinion proffered by Ken Olsen Founder of Digital Equipment Corp. in 1977 that “there is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home.”

(Note: Some observers dispute that Thomas Watson ever made the statement attributed to him. One author says he has been unable to locate any speeches or documents of Watson’s that contain the statement).

Essentially, there are two kinds of bozos, Kawasaki said: the slovenly, loser-type bozos with no credibility, and who nobody listens to, and the successful bozos, who are the most dangerous of all since people tend to believe them.

However, their very success on the previous curve makes them unable to comprehend, much less embrace, the next curve.

He said before identifying the “how” of innovation, it’s important to come to grips with the “what” – to understand the concept itself better, because the term is often used to describe practices that have nothing to do with innovation.

Jump to the next curve

Innovation, Kawasaki suggested, is not about taking current processes/ models/ practices and trying to improve upon them. It’s about jumping to the next curve.

He illustrated this principle with reference to the “ice making” industry.

He recalled the time when ice was harvested from frozen lakes with a saw, wagon and a horse. “The [innovators] of the time weren’t those who added a second horse, a bigger wagon or a sharper saw. The real competition was the next curve – the ice factory curve.”

Likewise, he said, the innovators of the ice factory era weren’t those with bigger ice plants, or more men to deliver the ice. “The competition was the next curve – the refrigerator curve.”

The same principle applies across industries and sectors, Kawasaki said. For instance, he recalled how during the Daisy wheel printing days, some printer manufacturers thought they were being innovative by introducing a range of new Helvetica font sizes each year.

While they were fussing over fonts, he said, the real innovators were busy jumping to the next curve – laser printing.

“Innovators,” Kawasaki said, “are not content with doing things 15 or 20 per cent better. They want to do things 10 or 15 times better.” And that’s accomplished by a leap to the next curve.

He said there’s no point asking the general populace to give you ideas on how to create a revolution. “That’s because most people can respond only in terms of what they already know – a bigger, faster, cheaper MS DOS machine or a bigger, faster, cheaper Apple 2. No one says create a little graphics toy with a trash can in the right hand corner, with a one-button mouse that has no software.”

Make meaning

Authentic innovators are also distinguished by what turns them on, Kawasaki said. “They are motivated, not by making money, but by making meaning.”

Kawasaki who is managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, a Palo Alto, Calif.–based venture capital firm, says day after day he hears the “money” pitch from budding entrepreneurs.

“They walk into our office saying: ‘We want to make money quickly for us and for you. We want to create [this product] and then sell our company to a Google for $1.6 billion in 12 months, or take it public into the hot IPO market. And they think they’re saying what the venture capitalist wants to hear. In fact, they’re saying just the opposite.”

He said it really works the other way around: companies that make meaning, that change the world, that make it a better place, that create good things and end bad things….companies that make meaning, also make money.

“But if you start your company with the goal of making money, you will attract the wrong kind of people. So my first recommendation if you want to be innovative is: figure out how to make the world a better place.”

Make mantra

These days the term “magic mantra” has become clich