I have been away from this blog a long time, because I have been writing a book on the overall quality of the products of industry. But it is far enough along that I am no longer constantly being besieged by the publisher, so I will restart the blog. Working on the book has forced me to think about creativity and innovation in the context of attempting to improve product quality.
Creativity and Innovation are now all the rage. Too much the rage? Depends on their focus.
When many of us think about creativity and innovation, thanks partly to the media, we tend to think about revolution, not evolution. I know a lot of students who want to invent the next big thing- the clean energy source, the hydrogen producing bacteria, a method of prolonging life, or at least a killer app, a better corkscrew, or a package that can be more easily opened. Most of them probably won’t. And if you ask them what they will do after they succeed, many of them assume they will go on to the next, next big thing, or maybe retire on the immense wealth they have amassed, or at least go to Patagonia.
Creativity and innovation are critical in increasing product quality. But quality is in the details and often the result of a great deal of iteration. Jonathan Ive, the Apple Vice President of Industrial Design, is rightly gaining a lot of attention for his contribution to the Apple Product line. I think most people would agree these are high quality products. An interesting insight into the Apple design process is here.
At one point the article states that by the time he graduated, Ive was already something of a legend in British design circles. Clive Grinyer, his first business partner, apparently visited him once in his flat and was amazed to find it filled to the rafters with hundreds of foam models of Ive's final student project, a microphone and hearing aid combo that teachers could use to communicate better with kids with hearing problems (not surprisingly, in white plastic). "I'd never seen anything like it: The sheer focus to get it perfect," recalls Grinyer.
Both the original i-pod and the Segway personal transportation vehicle were certainly innovative. But the i-Pod and its successors have become increasingly sophisticated in performance, well matched to the user, and pleasing in appearance. And it has captured the market in an amazing way. In 2010 the iPhone had only 4% of the cell phone market, but was raking in 50% of the profit. It continues to win acceptance and devotion from its users. Meanwhile, the Segway company, has gone on to the P.U.M.A. prototype and the EN-V prototype in conjunction with General Motors, but not had nearly the impact that Apple has had from a flood of high quality products. Innovation alone does not guarantee outstanding product success, and high quality requires constant attention to details—perhaps creativity with a small “c”.