Rapid Innovation

Posted: February 21, 2015 by Bill Cunningham in Innovation, People, Startup, Technology

bill-cunningham-sc“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”  – Steve Jobs – founder of Apple Computer

In my office I have a picture of Steve Jobs on one wall and Steve Blank facing him on the other. Mr. Jobs certainly needs no introduction, but Mr. Blank is not a household word around the Midwest as he is a veteran of 8 Silicon Valley tech companies and teaches at Stanford and Berkeley.  Steve Jobs believes customers can’t know what they want — we have to invent it for them.  Steve Blank, however, believes that you must find out what your customers need, and solve their problems. Which Steve do you follow?

The entrepreneur’s answer: follow both! Despite their apparent polarity, both Steves have valuable insight into the entrepreneurial way. Steve Jobs has a history of disruptive innovation in the tech world. Yet, his innovation did not happen without his close attention to the way people interact with technology. He didn’t ask people if they would use an iPod (iPad, iPhone, Watch.) He watched very closely how technology might solve many user problems and then create stunning products.

Steve Blank embraces this philosophy as well. He declares that no business plan can work until you engage with your potential customers. In his book, The Startup Owner’s Manual, he insists that “There Are No Facts Inside Your Building, So Get Outside.” In concert with Steve Jobs, you must listen to your potential customers, test your assumptions, build a minimum viable product to see if the “dogs even like the dog food.”

Both Steves agree that fast, fearless decision-making, short cycle times and warp speed are necessary to compete in today’s technology world. McKinsey researched a number of software companies and found that developers who delivered the product on-time but over-budget generated 8% more profits than developers who delivered on-budget but were late to market. This study lends credence to fast-decision making, rapid prototyping and short cycle times.

Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Apple planned products on an 18 month product life cycle. In the early days of personal computing, quick innovation created the competitive advantage for Apple and others. Scores of companies got out-innovated and later ceased operations because they couldn’t keep up the pace of rapid innovation.

This pace requires both visionary developers (hardware, software, marketing — yes marketing) and a keen sense of how customers will take to your new innovation. In Apple’s case, the hardware and software had to be intuitive and consistent with Steve Job’s vision. However, marketing – positioning the product, rolling the product out, delivering beyond expectations required significant resources and effort.

Listen to the two Steves. Innovate — but only after getting an earful from your potential customers.

You can read more entrepreneurial thought leaders columns at http://www.cincyentre.com.

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