When we lose a great innovator or leader, there’s a big void that forms in all of us. This longing for what we lost causes us to become infatuated with finding “the next so and so” to fill their shoes–like the numerous players that have been called the next Michael Jordan, but haven’t lived up to the legacy.
Unfortunately, no matter how well that person can emulate their predecessor, it will never be the same. Innovation has to come from a place of hungry desire to change the world in your own way; not the way someone before you had laid out.
For this reason, innovation very often comes from the “little-guy” or “a nobody”–the person or team working out of their garage with the vision to change their industry and and the high aptitude for risk.
As companies form, take on capital, and begin growing into a large corporation, there are a lot of barriers which prevent them from taking those same risks. Whether it is a strict board of directors, poor company culture, or the fear of losing it all, established companies lack the ability to make risky, innovative moves.
In 2011, Apple lost more than Steve Jobs. They lost their unique, rebellious nature. With Steve in charge, they had a win-at-all-costs attitude, that went against business norms and the expectations of their investors and board. Similar to the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys in the late 80s, who were notorious for getting in fights during games but winning championships, Steve was set on changing the world and he didn’t care how it would get done.
One particular case is the time Steve gave Carly Fiorina and HP their own branded iPod, so that HP/Compaq computers would allow iTunes Music store to be the go to for media instead of Windows Media Player. Shortly thereafter, Apple upgraded to the next version of iPod, thus making HP’s version outdated.
With Tim Cook at the helm, we’ve seen Apple transform into a luxurious IoT jewelry store, essentially offering the world nice jewelry that connects to the internet. Tim is an operations and execution type guy. Obviously, he isn’t running Apple into the ground any time soon, being that they are the most profitable company in the US, but he doesn’t have the same rebellious attitude as Steve.
By letting systems for optimization and heavy focus on profits lead the company, a lot of the creativity dies. Instead, they are more focused on incremental improvements to their existing devices–adding a diamond here or there.
Since 2011, the iPhone’s design has changed once, the transition between 5 and 6. Yes, they’ve made it waterproof, eliminated the headphone jack, and upgraded the camera for the tenth time, but there is really no big innovation in that–just incremental improvements.
Motorola took the biggest risk, something we would’ve seen out of Jobs, with their creation of the modular phone: Moto Z. Motorola clearly beat Apple in phone innovation.
Although the Touch Bar in MacBook Pro looks promising, the entire device is far from innovative. By taking away the USB port and the SD card reader, we lose the fundamental capabilities we need to succeed.
How can Apple transition back to being the innovators?
Quite frankly, Apple’s time as the world’s foremost innovator may be over.
Steve Blank mentions in an article that as an operations-focused CEO, Tim Cook got rid of a lot of the chaos and turbulence in Apple and replaced it with process and structure. This is great for predictability (for the investors), but gives rise to the creative death spiral.
Steve Jobs knew this would happen when he appointed Tim Cook as CEO. In this video, Jobs talks about sales and marketing people taking over companies and pushing the creative, product oriented people out of the decision-making forums. He goes on to say, “As a result, the companies forget what it means to make great products.”
Realistically, they are missing the top-down mindset of creative chaos. The idea that you shouldn’t attack any problem with the same process you attacked the last problem. It’s about letting that chaos of ideas overwhelm your thoughts. Making connections between seemingly random things. And when you hit those roadblocks, controlling the situation by taking a break, trusting the chaotic approach, and not falling back into an old process.
Jobs loved to have walking meetings to hash out ideas and reclaim that creative flow.
You have a better chance at two balls colliding, by throwing a hundred of them down the stairs than you do by tossing one in the air and throwing another one at it. Innovation comes from making connections that don’t seem possible; by doubting the way something is currently done and replacing it with a new way.
These connections aren’t made through systematic processes. Innovation stems from controlled chaos. Einstein was famous for his messy desk covered in idea-filled papers…not an orderly notebook of theories.