Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review - The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

I have the good fortune to read books on innovation subjects just before they are released.  It is actually a lot more interesting than that might sound.  On the whole, there is a lot of good stuff being written about innovation - the real question is, will anyone take the time to read all that's out there?

Today I am reviewing a book called The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo.  Gallo wrote a well-received book a few years ago entitled The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and felt a book on Jobs and Innovation was in order.  Anyone who has paid any attention lately knows that Apple is held up as a leading innovator, and rightly so, and most people place the locus of that success squarely on Jobs' head, which I also agree with.  If Jobs is driving a wave of innovation at Apple, it would make sense to understand what makes him tick, and what we could learn from that.

First, let me get off my chest the annoyance with the focus on "secrets".  As I've written before, there really aren't any secrets where innovation is concerned, and if you've paid any attention to the media you'll know much that Gallo is writing about.  The sooner we end the mythos that pervades the innovation space the better.

Now that that's off my chest we can proceed with the review.  Gallo has done an excellent job rounding up a significant number of people who were present at the beginning of a number of Apple's innovations.  He had to use this method to suss out Jobs' strategy, since Jobs doesn't like to talk about it directly to the media.  Jobs prefers to announce grand strategies and use the media to reinforce Apple's image as an innovator and a leader, but he doesn't appear too ready to talk directly about the innovation programs or visions.  Gallo has done a good job piecing together some of the strategies and insights by talking to a wide range of people who were with Apple during the resurgence.

Gallo argues that there are seven principles that will help you innovate like Jobs:
  1. Do what you love
  2. Put a dent in the universe - have a big vision
  3. Kick-start your brain - use creativity and have lots of different experiences
  4. Sell dreams not products - understand what people want to accomplish
  5. Say no to 1000 things
  6. Create insanely great experiences
  7. Master the message
In these points Gallo identifies what makes Jobs, and by extension Apple, a good innovator.  Apple is focusing tightly on important and relevant products and experience that impact how we live, especially how we gain and interact with new media and social media.  Apple under Jobs has always had an outsized vision of itself and its mission - remember the 1984 commercial?  A big vision, tied to excellent strategic insight and the ability to accurately predict trends in the marketplace have put Apple in an excellent position.

But Apple has also been fairly ruthless in its focus.  Since Jobs rejoined Apple the number of products Apple offers has actually fallen rather dramatically.  Apple places a lot of emphasis on one or two disruptive products a year, and people eagerly await Jobs' next announcement (master the message).  Jobs understands probably better than most what it means to offer a "whole product" (the MP-3 player AND iTunes) and masters the messaging better than any of his competitors.  Apple doesn't just create a new technology - in fact they are technology laggards - they create a product that works and provide an excellent experience that seems cool.  Sony, Dell, Samsung and H-P must cringe everytime Apple steals a march on them, because Apple has a constancy of vision and the ability to deliver experience in a package that none of these other firms have yet been able to match.

All the Jobs stories are here - how he dropped in at Reed College in calligraphy, his time in an ashram, the early glory days, the days in the Wilderness, his return to Apple.  All of them seem to have had an effect on Jobs as a thinker and innovator, according to the book.  Somehow I doubt that conclusion.  While Jobs is the summation of his experiences, he was always an iconoclast, zigging where others zagged.  His experiences may have shaped his thinking, but the kernal of what he is was there all along. 

You can't innovate like Jobs because he is Jobs and you aren't, but that's OK.  We only need a few Jobs' to set a standard.  You can learn a lot about Jobs and his different perspectives, and begin to apply these ideas in places that are far different from Apple.  However, you can't simply change a culture of any firm to align it to Apple's thinking, or Google's structures, overnight, and it would be difficult and distracting.  What you can do is identify the iconoclasts within your firm and begin to encourage them to think different.  Therein lies the genesis of innovation success.  Demonstrating that people with unique insights who want to create great change can work within a large, staid organization successfully, rather than having to create a completely new company.

This is a good book, well organized and well written that reminds and reinforces our image and knowledge of Jobs.  At the end I am left with the fact that some people are so unique and different that we can't hope to copy them, but even pale imitations may take us a long way.  The real question is how many people have the courage to try.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:54 AM

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