Innovating like Apple, yes! But what if it all goes Pear shape?
Most CEOs would say that innovation is critical to their companies’ success, loads of people would want to exercise their creativity and innovate, but whether at the corporate or at the individual level, something holds everyone back: risk. “What if it all goes wrong?” This can be more or less marked depending on the degree of acceptance of trial-and-error as a learning process, but to some extent it exists in all cultures, countries and companies.
What can we do about it? There are process answers around framing the project and keeping it focused, rapid prototyping different versions of the product or piloting in the market. But most importantly there is a mindset answer which is both accept it and don’t accept it.
Forbes provides an interesting list of Apple failures: a few forgotten computers such as the Lisa, the Mac portable, the Taligent, the power mac G4 cube, and a raft of other products that most people may be surprised to hear about: the Newton PDA, the Quicktake digital camera, the Macintosh TV, the Pippin video-game console, the Rokr mobile phone/mp3.
For all its resounding successes from the Apple II to the iPhone, Apple has not been immune to failure. The difference that makes the difference is that they accept that there will be some failures along the way. They have a portfolio mindset: they continuously scan the environment, they identify potential opportunities, they try, they go for it. When it does not work they pull the plug decisively, but when it works: bingo!
Don’t accept it
Apple may have failed with the Newton, the Quicktake and the Rockr but they have remained true to their multi-media vision, they sticked to the strategic challenge they had set for themselves to get into the handheld market, and ultimately they found “the magic number” to succeed with the iPod and the iPhone.
Accepting failures does not mean accepting that these mark the end of the road. Too often, a company’s response to a few innovation failures is to abandon the field and shift strategic priorities in another direction. As they do so, they actually reduce the relevance of what they have learned (or should have learned) from their failures, they land themselves in a new field where they need to learn everything, and their chances of success are actually lower than if they had sticked to their initial strategic priority.
So, accept that you will be thrown off-balance along the way, but don’t accept being blown off-course.