Home > For the Captain: Create an innovation culture > Bose: Passion Driven Innovation

Bose: Passion Driven Innovation

A few years ago when I was living in France, my elder brother visited me. We both walked down to the small city centre in hope of finding a home theatre system for me. Back then, I was a novice to the audio world with very limited knowledge on available systems, whilst my brother had years of experience of assembling speakers, woofers, sub-woofers and amplifiers on his own to achieve the best sound effect and quality.

We entered a store that sold several systems. My eyes were immediately caught by popular brand names such as Sony and Yamaha, particularly with the display of large multi-component systems. The intricacies intrigued me and were compelling evidence for what I perceived to be high quality.

While I kept myself busy with the popular and catchy systems, I realized my brother was stationed in a corner looking at what appeared to be a black box akin a computer CPU.

Along with it were two small speakers. The 3-piece system cost more than the systems I was looking at. The brand name was something I had not heard of before, called Bose. He engaged himself in a conversation with a salesman and before long signaled to me that we were buying the system. Imaginably, I was full of questions. He tried explaining to me that the system was far better than the rest I had seen or heard of. I was still half-convinced, yet paid the full amount and left the store with my brother and a newly purchased audio system that I had no clue about!

At home, while I was preparing dinner, my brother hooked up the system in less than 15 minutes and before I knew, I heard sounds of car crashing from the movie Bad Boys II. I ran to the living room and froze in amazement at the sound I was hearing. My brother flashed a cheesy smile and said, “Congratulations, you now have the best sound system amongst the rest of us in the family!”

Since then, the system redefined my music enjoyment and home entertainment experience. I started researching about Bose and its technologies. The company, which had begun in 1964, was setup by Dr. Amar G. Bose who was underwhelmed by the performance of a high-end stereo speaker system that he had bought in 1956. This, in turn motivated his extensive speaker technology research, concentrating on key weaknesses in the high-end speaker systems available at the time, which led to close to half a century of successful products of enduring quality.

Looking deeper into the company’s innovation drivers, offers some pointers:

i) R&D overdrive: To date, Bose remains a privately held company that enjoys the freedom of unparalleled R&D advantage, unlike its rivals that are more often than not accountable to share markets, venture capitalists and federal regulators. This enabled Bose to plow its profits back into R&D, capital investments and product developments to ensure company growth, contrary to what a listed company would do.

ii) Maverick ideas: Bose remains uncompromising in taking to market maverick ideas, not pursued by competition, to create products of style with exceptional quality. This is evident from its Bose® Direct/Reflecting® technology, Acoustic Waveguide® technology and the more recent Bose® Suspension System for luxury cars. The focus was clearly on well-understood breakthrough technologies. In addition, the company itself started with a few MIT students and went on to hire people who believed steadfastly in technology. Passion and honesty in the workforce helped Bose drive away fear from competition and concentrate on winning technologies. They knew they had to be different and that in turn helped propel them in the right direction.

iii) Understanding consumers’ unspoken motivation: Where products are typically created to meet perceived customers’ needs, Bose took the leap to figure out what people would love to have but never even thought to ask and then went ahead to find the technology, develop the product and bring it to market so that people know about it and appreciate it.

iv) Advertising lifestyle, not product: Bose prides itself in its differentiated communications approach to advertising and marketing its products/technologies. Instead of boasting of what it has, the advertising materials are focused on the message of something different and special inside the product, aimed at getting people’s attention. Arguably, advertisements driven on what a product consists of could be half the truth and consumers may also not be able to tell the difference.

v) Simplicity: A key differentiator in Bose’ systems is the discernible simplicity – easy to understand what it does, not how it does it and easy to use – departing from myths such as more buttons and knobs, complicated wiring and multi-component systems. Inevitably, Bose targets a niche market willing to pay a premium price for its products. Yet, within this segment, in order to have lots of people use the product, it had to make the products usable by lots of people.

The radical approach to innovation may not be part of today’s mainstream approaches, yet it has worked for Bose. Based on my own personal encounter, the consumer experience with my first Bose purchase was both enriching and educational. Undoubtedly, passion-driven innovation has helped Bose introduce innovations with differentiated and enduring technologies that in turn have made many people’s lives better. Or at least, sound better.

  1. Vijeesh Papulli
    March 19, 2012 at 11:51

    Thanks for the well written article on Bose! I have always been amazed at the simplicity and the technological strength that Bose products bring to the consumer. I personally find the product a bid above my budget but have had the chance to experience the sound quality that you described in your article (I hope to own a BOSE one day!). Truly a standout product which I am sure is worth the extra buck that one needs to shell out. Among the pointers you mentioned, one that is making me think is the impact of being a privately held company. The fact they do not have to answer to share markets and others seem to make me think what BOSE would have been had they gone public! They currently have a revenue of US $2 billion and Samsung Eletronics is about US $ 13.67 billion. I guess the question in my mind is whether they would have been as innovative focussed if they had gone public! If they could have, then they may have missed a huge opportunity! If not I guess they are better off where they are now! Makes me think on different dimensions! Thanks for the article. As usual, though provoking to say the least!!

    • March 22, 2012 at 06:49

      Hello Vijeesh,
      Thank you for your comments and thoughts. Incidentally, I am gathering more information to compare R&D and innovation of a public-listed vs. a privately owned. Indeed, the question is would they have been as successful had they gone public. It’s not a straightforward question to answer but relies upon the internal drivers of the company. In the case of Bose, it is apparent that understanding a technology well, spending time on research and coming out with products not aimed at the masses were some of their drivers. With such set-up, they were less constrained by pressure on time to market. These worked for Bose as they were clearly passionate about their technologies. Perhaps, if they had gone public, they would not have been able to delve deep into each technology before marketing a product and may have also been forced to develop on parallel lines alongside competition.

      It’d be good to hear on your different dimensions of thoughts regarding this. It could also enrich my follow-up post, which I hope to publish soon. Cheers.

  2. Robert Greinger
    March 27, 2012 at 01:08

    Notice the article says his brother was standing in the corner listening to the BOSE system. BOSE does not allow retailers to setup their speakers up in the same room as other manufacturer’s speakers. Wouldn’t want the customer to be able to directly compare their overpriced garbage to real speakers.

    Also notice that BOSE speakers cost the same everywhere. They have a minimum resale price, so customers will see the high price and think they are better than they really are.

    Buy Other Sound Equipment.

  3. Stan
    July 31, 2012 at 14:50

    As someone who has been a design engineer for both Sony speakers and Bose, I can tell you that Bose speakers are generally of better quality than Sony speakers. Sony speakers aim to meet customers needs and sell whatever products they can, while Bose aims to find an innovative product and create it to the best of their ability. And having owned many sound products from many different companies, I can tell you firsthand that a Bose product of equal “caliber” of a competitor’s product is more expensive, and of much high quality.

  1. May 5, 2012 at 06:56
  2. June 14, 2013 at 18:54

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