Take time to innovate… or die…

One of the things that I have learned is that there is always someone out there doing the same thing that you are. We have copy rights and patents to protect our creations but there are people who argue that they are crutches that we put in place so we can live off what we have already done. Other companies like Intel publicly challenge competitors saying that they innovate so fast that trying to steal their ideas is an act of futility. In Intel’s case I believe they are right and because of that, they are my hero’s.

I have worked in a number of start-ups and there is no doubt that during those early years you have to work really hard. I have been known to more than double the number of work hours I was paid for in order to get up to speed on a new technology or get past a development road block. This can be tiring and there is a temptation to bask in the light of your successes as a result. The problem with this of course is that your competitors who may be joining the race late, will push right past you.

Companies can never stop innovating!! Innovation does not have to come from product management or your manager it comes from you. For most of my career I have been the one proposing strange and wonderful things that I have to explain to my supervisors. In many cases they look at me like a have square eyes and go away shaking their head. In too many case they come back a few days later with a slightly modified version of the same idea and call it their own. Who really cares where the idea came from as long as we innovate and get to work on great ideas. I understand that Steve Jobs was a master at making other people’s ideas his own and look where that got Apple…

When a company stops innovating, it starts to die. Sometimes innovation stops because sales and marketing say customer’s can’t keep up with the churn. That is a concern that needs to be managed by the down stream groups and is not a reason to stop innovating. Sometimes innovation stops because a company really doesn’t know where the creativity resides in a organization and gets rid of the wrong people. This one is harder to recognize and fix, but if you can see it, everyone can be replaced. The real trick is recognizing that innovation has slowed down or stopped and then doing something about it.

If we look back to Apple, we see that they never stop innovating and that is why they have been so successful. There are web sites like “mac rumors” to help customer’s with buying decisions. These sites don’t have the inside scoop on what is going on at 1 infinite loop, but they keep track of the rate of innovation and tell customers if it’s a good time to buy. The fact that sites like that exist are a credit to the companies that make them necessary.

Yes people feel pissed off when they buy a new iPad and find it upgraded two weeks later and having 10 new software releases a year can drive an IT organization nuts. Both of these things however are not a reason to slow down. If you build it, they will not always come, but if you build it significantly better, that’s a different story.


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