Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Breaking the mold

Albert Einstein is recognized as the person who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By that definition, most innovation teams and firms that seek improvements in their innovation are insane.

Take a look at an article features on the Business Innovation Insider (link here). If you aren't reading the Innovation Insider, you should be. Dominic puts together an incredible range of information on innovation. At any rate, the Innovation Insider focuses on an article from Fortune about the success of the RAZR phone.

The article in Fortune and Dominic's summary draw some interesting conclusions:

- The phone was originally targeted as a high end, very expensive phone, costing over $500
- The team ended up well behind schedule delivering the phone
- The team kept its work, its design, even the materials it was using secret
- The team did little external requirements gathering or focus groups

Think about this - the team failed from a timeline perspective, a marketing perspective, a pricing perspective and didn't align to existing product development methodologies, materials or project norms.

In other words, the team failed to follow any of the organization's guidelines and expectations and cultural norms and created a huge hit. As the article points out, the team that designed the RAZR "broke the mold".

By this I think the author means that the team operated in a manner inconsistent or almost at odds with the existing corporate culture and expectation. Since the article points out that in 2002 and 2003 Motorola was in poor shape financially and with its product portfolio, what other option existed? The design team could have accepted the "status quo" of the Motorola design and development culture, or they could have chosen their own path. It only seems logical in hindsight to question everything about the then-current Motorola process and to seek ways to change it.

But while the team has been successful, the important question one must ask at this junction is - is it sustainable? Is there a culture, a program, an organizational fabric which improves product innovation at Motorola, or did a bunch of random opportunities coalesce to create a great, one-time suite of products that can't or won't be repeated? Will Motorola break the mold and create a new way of thinking and a new approach across its design team, or will the majority of the organization simply look at the RAZR design team as renegades and return to the old ways of doing things?

I happened to meet several Motorola design engineers and product developers recently. In our discussions, what was clearly their biggest challenge to new product innovation was - corporate culture and change. So while the RAZR team has created an exceptional product, will Motorola be able to sustain that innovative capability over the long term, or was this a one shot wonder? The challenge that Motorola faces is to demonstrate that innovation is the norm, and that the RAZR team demonstrates a consistent capability rather than an "individual act of heroism".
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:27 AM


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