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Weekly 3: Tools for innovating

Summary: Invest in your customers. Jump curves, and over your competitors. Cook up new solutions with

Idea Journal Weekly 3

April 1 · Issue #28 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Invest in your customers. Jump curves, and over your competitors. Cook up new solutions with a six-step recipe. (~6 min read)

#1. To create more impact with your innovations, invest in your customers' human capital.
Consultant and MIT Research Fellow Michael Schrage writes that most companies take an incomplete approach to creating innovative solutions. 
They frequently look inward, focusing on their core competencies, and trying to hire and develop innovative employees who can then create new products and services. But that’s not enough.
Schrage argues that you also need to look outward, and treat the innovation process as an investment in the competencies and capabilities of your customers.
To do this, answer the question: Who do you want your customers to become?
In Schrage’s view, this is the approach used by the most innovative and impactful companies – here are a few examples: 
Henry Ford didn’t only develop a factory system for the mass production of cars. He also mass produced drivers and helped popularize the act of driving, which has transformed markets and the capabilities of individuals and organizations across the world.
Google has done more than just create a new way to search – it’s changed hundreds of millions of people into better searchers. The company then uses the collective intelligence of all these searchers to add value to its own capabilities.
Starbucks hasn’t simply made niche styles of coffee more accessible; the company “asks customers to become sophisticated connoisseurs of complex coffees.”
#2. Roll the “DICEE” to create more innovative solutions.
Author and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki writes in his book The Art of the Start 2.0 that “Entrepreneurship is at its best when it alters the future, and it alters the future when it jumps curves.”
Kawasaki gives the following examples of products jumping curves:
  • Typewriter to daisywheel printer to laser printer to 3D printer
  • Telegraph to telephone to mobile phone to smartphone
  • Cassette player to Walkman to iPod
For Kawasaki, all curve-jumping products share the characteristics laid out in the below DICEE framework:
Deep: Customers may not realize at first all the features and functionality that curve-jumping products offer, and therefore they’re unlikely to outgrow these products.
  • Example: Google offers everything from search to advertising, and analytics to social media, among other capabilities: “You could only use Google products and have everything you need for computing.”
Intelligent: They show that their creators truly understand their customer’s pain or problem.
  • Example: Kawasaki references the MyKey option that Ford provides with its cars, which allows parents to program the car’s top speed and volume of the stereo for when their kids drive it.
Complete: Curve-jumping products aren’t just “isolated gizmos, online downloads, or web services.” Instead, they include everything from pre- and post-sales support and documentation, to enhancements and complementary products.
  • Example: Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service provides self-publishing authors nearly everything they need to bring their work to market.
Empowering: Products that jump curves help people become more productive and creative: “You don’t fight great products – they become one with you.”
  • Example: Kawasaki cites his own experience evangelizing and using a Mac, which he sees as being central to making him a better writer, speaker, and advisor.
Elegant: For Kawasaki, “elegance is the combination of power and simplicity.” Companies that create elegant products obsess over design and user interface, and care about what’s not there just as much as what is.
  • Example: Furniture company Herman Miller has won multiple awards for the engaging style and detailed craftsmanship of its products.
As you’re developing your own solutions, Kawasaki encourages you to ask the following 2 questions:
  1. Does your product offer “better sameness” or does it jump to the next curve?
  2. Are you creating a product that is deep, intelligent, complete, empowering, and elegant?
#3. Avoid formalities and focus on the real problem.
Entrepreneur and Silicon Valley oracle Paul Graham writes that whenever he’s created something new – from his essays to the startup accelerator Y Combinator – he’s followed the below six-step process.
Find simple solutions –> to overlooked problems –> that actually need to be solved –> deliver those solutions as informally as possible –> starting with a crude version 1 –> and iterating rapidly.
Graham writes that this strategy is successful in the long run “because it gives you all the advantages other people forgo by trying to seem legit.”
Working on overlooked problems means that you’re more likely to discover new things because you’ll have less competition. When you deliver solutions informally, you “(a) save all the effort you would have had to expend to make them look impressive, and (b) avoid the danger of fooling yourself as well as your audience.” Releasing an initially crude version and then iterating means that “your solution can benefit from the imagination of nature.”
For Graham, Reddit is a classic case of using this approach.
When it first launched, “it seemed like there was nothing to it.” To many people, the site’s deliberately minimalist design seemed like no design at all. 
But Reddit solved the fundamental problem: to tell people what was new on the internet, and otherwise get out of the way. 
Quote of the Week
“When you’re on to something great, it won’t feel like revolution. It’ll feel like uncommon sense.”
- Author and entrepreneur Derek Sivers in his book Anything You Want
Idea Journal
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