When what you teach and develop every day has the title “Innovation” attached to it, you reach a point where you tire of hearing about Apple. Without question, nearly everyone believes the equation Apple = Innovation is a fundamental truth. Discover what makes them different.
Because you’re not Apple and you are likely not selling a similar set of products, you must do research to understand the customer. And, while I’m sure Jobs says he doesn’t do research, it’s pretty clear that his team goes out to thoroughly study behaviors and interests of those they think will be their early adopters. Call it talking to friends and family, but honestly, you know that these guys live by immersing themselves in the hip culture of music, video, mobile, and computing.
The point is not to go ask your customers what they want. If you ask that question in the formative stages, then you’re doing it wrong. The point is to go immerse yourself in their environment and ask lots of “why” questions until you have thoroughly explored the ins and outs of their decision making, needs, wants, and problems. At that point, you should be able to break their needs and the opportunities down into a few simple statements of truth.
As Alan Cooper says, how can you help an end user achieve the goal if you don’t know what it is? You have to build a persona or model that accurately describes the objectives of your consumers and the problems they face with the existing solutions. The real benefit, as I saw in my years working at InstallShield and Macrovision, is that unless you put a face and expectations on that consumer, then disagreements about features or product positioning or design come down to who can pull the greatest political will—rather than who has the cleanest interpretation of the consumer’s need.
You need the right people, and you need to reward them.
The designers at Apple are paid 50% more than their counterparts at other organizations. These designers aren’t working at Apple simply because they’re paid more. They stay at Apple because of the amazing things they get to do there. Rewards are about salary and benefits, but they are also about recognition and being able to do satisfying work that challenges the mind and allows the creative muscles to stretch. Part of this also comes down to ensuring your teams are passionate about innovation and dedicated to the focus of the organization. As Jobs says, he looks for people who are crazy about Apple. So you need to look closely at the people you are hiring and whether you have the right team in the first place.
Alain Breillatt is a product manager with more than 14 years of experience in bringing new products and services to market. His previous professional lives have carried him through medical device R&D, consumer credit, IT management, software product management, and new product consulting at companies including Baxter, Sears, InstallShield, Macrovision, and Kuczmarski & Associates. As a consultant he has generated new product portfolios for Fortune 500 and smaller organizations and developed course materials on innovation for the MBA and Executive Education programs at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Alain is a Director of Product Management for The Nielsen Company’s syndicated consumer research solutions. Contact Alain at firstname.lastname@example.org or catch his latest insights at http://pictureimperfect.net.