The Art of Innovation

I’m getting tired of writing about lies, so today I’m covering truths. Specifically, the truths of innovation. I hold these truths to not be self-evident; hence we see so little innovation.

  1. Jump to the next curve. Too many companies duke it out on the same curve. If they were daisy wheel printer companies, they think innovation means adding Helvetica in 24 points. Instead, they should invent laser printing. True innovation happens when a company jumps to the next curve–or better still, invents the next curve, so set your goals high.
  2. Don’t worry, be crappy. An innovator doesn’t worry about shipping an innovative product with elements of crappiness if it’s truly innovative. The first permutation of a innovation is seldom perfect–Macintosh, for example, didn’t have software (thanks to me), a hard disk (it wouldn’t matter with no software anyway), slots, and color. If a company waits–for example, the engineers convince management to add more features–until everything is perfect, it will never ship, and the market will pass it by.
  3. Churn, baby, churn. I’m saying it’s okay to ship crap–I’m not saying that it’s okay to stay crappy. A company must improve version 1.0 and create version 1.1, 1.2, … 2.0. This is a difficult lesson to learn because it’s so hard to ship an innovation; therefore, the last thing employees want to deal with is complaints about their perfect baby. Innovation is not an event. It’s a process.
  4. Don’t be afraid to polarize people. Most companies want to create the holy grail of products that appeals to every demographic, social-economic background, and geographic location. To attempt to do so guarantees mediocrity. Instead, create great DICEE products that make segments of people very happy. And fear not if these products make other segments unhappy. The worst case is to incite no passionate reactions at all, and that happens when companies try to make everyone happy.
  5. Break down the barriers. The way life should work is that innovative products are easy to sell. Dream on. Life isn’t fair. Indeed, the more innovative, the more barriers the status quo will erect in your way. Entrepreneurs should understand this upfront and not get flustered when market acceptance comes slowly. I’ve found that the best way to break barriers is enable people to test drive your innovation: download your software, take home your hardware, whatever it takes.
  6. “Let a hundred flowers blossom.” I stole this from Chairman Mao. Innovators need to be flexible about how people use their products. Avon created Skin So Soft to soften skin, but when parents used it as an insect repellant, Avon went with the flow. Apple thought it created a spreadsheet/database/wordprocessing computer; but, come to find out, customers used it as a desktop publishing machine. The lesson is: Don’t be proud. Let a hundred flowers blossom.
  7. Think digital, act analog. Thinking digital means that companies should use all the digital tools at its disposal–computers, web sites, instruments, whatever–to create great products. But companies should act analog–that is, they must remember that the purpose of innovation is not cool products and cool technologies but happy people. Happy people is a decidedly analog goal.
  8. Never ask people to do what you wouldn’t do. This is a great test for any company. Suppose a company invents the world’s greatest mousetrap. It murders mice better than anything in the history of mankind–in fact, it’s nuclear powered. The problem is that the customer needs a PhD to set it, it costs $500,000, and has to drop off the dead, radioactive mouse 500 miles away in the middle of the desert. No one at the company would jump through those hoops–it shouldn’t expect customers to either.
  9. Don’t let the bozos grind you down. The bozos will tell a company that what it’s doing can’t be done, shouldn’t be done, and isn’t necessary. Some bozos are clearly losers–they’re the ones who are easy to ignore. The dangerous ones are rich, famous, and powerful–because they are so successful, innovators may think they are right. They’re not right; they’re just successful on the previous curve so they cannot comprehend, much less embrace, the next curve.

Written at: Marriott Hotel, San Francisco, California

By | 2016-10-24T14:29:35+00:00 January 10th, 2006|Categories: Innovation|57 Comments

About the Author:

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

57 Comments

  1. Jie Kang January 10, 2006 at 1:19 am - Reply

    Words to live by for a tech startup like mine. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Doug Fleener January 10, 2006 at 5:23 am - Reply

    You have to appreciate when Chairman Mao’s quotes that once spread communism is now spreading capitalism.
    I really appreciate that the purpose of innovation is not cool products and cool technologies but happy people. Happy people is a decidedly analog goal. Too bad most industries don’t get it…especially in my field of retail. It’s not about the products but rather the people and the outcome. Thanks.

  3. Game Producer January 10, 2006 at 5:24 am - Reply

    “”Jump to the next curve…..they should invent laser printing.”
    Won’t work in all areas of business. In game business: you cannot jump to the latest technology wagon – or you end up having way too many customers without option to play. On the other hand – innovative design would hit the jackpot.

  4. David Perry January 10, 2006 at 6:48 am - Reply

    #10. Never Ever Surrender. When the 1st or 151st iteration doesn’t quite take – step back and assess the need – if it’s still valid step up and swing for the fences again!

  5. olivier blanchard January 10, 2006 at 9:27 am - Reply

    Amen!!!
    “Every shock wave needs a trigger. A catalyst. And that catalyst is people: Engineers, creatives, listeners, curious Georges, artists, writers, mathematicians, designers, philosophers, anthropologists, product users, historians, poets and problem-solvers. These are the people who will turn a chunk of metal into not only a work of art, but a product that will inspire awe and love and want.
    These are the people who will help turn something as precarious as an interaction between a frustrated customer and a customer service rep. into three-minute of toll-free bliss.
    These are the people who can make anything transcend its “sum-of-its-parts” banality into an extraordinary experience.”
    That’s innovation at its best.
    “Think about iPod. Think about the Starbucks cup of coffee. Think about the Palm V. Think about every iconic innovative breakthrough that has changed the way we live and work and travel and play. Every single one without fail startedwith a group of people from diverse backgrounds sitting in a room together to listen to each other talk about how to address a need.
    This happens at the beginning of a product’s design cycle, not at the end.
    Anyone can do this. You could be an international corporation or a one-person company. It doesn’t matter.”
    Two cool posts on innovation:
    1) http://thebrandbuilder.blogspot.com/2005/10/innovation-starts-here.html
    2) http://thebrandbuilder.blogspot.com/2005/09/ground-zero-brandbuilding.html

  6. JeffT January 10, 2006 at 9:47 am - Reply

    I love it! Story of my life. Here’s a nice quote from Winston Churchill:
    “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm”.

  7. Dan Harris January 10, 2006 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    I particularly like the Don’t let the bozos grind you down “truth.” I am constantly telling entrepreneurs that most people, (either consciously or subconsciously) want them NOT to try because failing to try will validate the naysayer’s past decisions to do the same. It’s called cognitive dissonance.

  8. Navin January 10, 2006 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    Guy,
    Could you please correct the font size to optimum levels ?
    Earlier it was too small to read and now its too big for comfort.

  9. Andrew January 10, 2006 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    Guy – Have not spoken with you since my Outbound Systems day back in 1991-1992. Have kept up with your books. Glad to see you now have a blog. If you have a chance, bop on over to www.egoventures.com for a look around.

  10. Stupid Guy January 10, 2006 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    The Top Ten Lies Of Business Gurus!!!!
    1. I’m successful because I’m brilliant. Never mind that I sold a money-losing piece of crap to a dot-com at the height of the internet madness. You should listen to me for my brilliant insights.
    2. I’m not ‘successful’ because I happened to be in the right place at the right time. No sir re, that had nothing to do with my success.
    3. If you follow my advice, you’ll be successful too! Just wait till the next irrational exuberant thing comes along.
    4. I never “drank the punch” during the dot-com era. I always told everyone that the dot-com bubble was going to burst.
    5. Just give me your money and I’ll show you how to raise more. Honest.
    6. Oh, I know at least THREE companies that are doing what you are doing. If not, I’ll tell them your ideas so they can get started.
    7. You don’t need a direct revenue model. Just aggregate eyeballs and you’ll find a way to make money.
    8. I STRUGGLED to make myself a success. Never mind my wealthy parents and Ivy League education.
    9. You have to have BALANCE in your life. That’s why I divorced my old wife and took up with a young hottie after I sold my company.
    10. I so successful I don’t need to work. That’s why I fly all over the country charging business wannabes $1000 to attend my seminars.

  11. Stacy January 10, 2006 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    OK, lovin’ this one – it’s diluted my fear (see my post to top 10 lies of VC’s). Ready, fire, aim.
    Written near Molly Stone’s in beautiful San Bruno.

  12. Douglas January 10, 2006 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    Sometimes the bozo is yourself.

  13. Helen Wang January 10, 2006 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    Just at the point of your getting tired of writing about ties, I am getting tired of reading about lies. Great posts!
    Check out my blogs. I write blogs when I have nothing to say and read blogs when I have nothing to do 🙂 .

  14. Phil Gerbyshak January 10, 2006 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    Outstanding rules Guy! Thanks for inspiring us all to be more innovative and less boring!

  15. Deepak Singh January 11, 2006 at 12:41 am - Reply

    A wonderful post. In addition to Chairman Mao’s pearls of wisdom, point #1 probably covers the most significant barrier to innovation. Too often technology companies forget that incremental development is not the same as innovation.

  16. Alex Krupp January 11, 2006 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    I think #7 would make more sense if it were reversed, i.e. Act Digital, Think Analog. That is, use digital technologies to achieve the goals of making people happy.

  17. Alan Palmer January 11, 2006 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    The art of Innovation- #9 is spot on.
    Ready for the next curve of invention!
    Thanks for the article Guy!
    AP

  18. Brady Joslin January 11, 2006 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    the purpose of innovation is not cool products and cool technologies but happy people.
    I really like that suggestion.

  19. Shana E January 11, 2006 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    Your post is reminiscent of Rules for Revolutionaries, which you signed for me at Seybold SF 1998 while I was still an employee. At first, I didn’t understand why the whole thing was written with what appeared to be jargon. Then life took an interesting turn and I lived the life of folding-chair-and-banquet-table-as-desk, wondering where the rent money and the food were coming from as we ate like birds and crapped like elephants, finding that eventually, the good ideas do stick, and the book made some great sense as I lived the entrepreneur’s life you described. Thanks for the inspiration,Guy. I have appreciated them in the middle of some unbelievable times.

  20. Josh Carter January 11, 2006 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    I think #2 (Don’t worry, be crappy), deserves some clarification. There are two axes of crappiness: missing features and bugs. Guy, I’m pretty sure you’re talking about missing features here, as those are your examples. Certainly any 1.0 product won’t have all the features you want. Trouble is, you don’t know which features your customers will really use, so you don’t always know what features you’re missing. But if your 1.0 is riddled with bugs, that’s a whole separate ball of wax. Customers will quickly discard your product and probably never consider buying 1.1 or 2.0.
    I think Apple’s Pages 1.0 is a good example. They were going after established markets (word processing, page layout) with an innovative approach, but the product lacked some important features. People tried it and commented on the features they couldn’t live without — valuable information to Apple. While Pages 1.0 may not have revolutionized the markets it was going for, it was at least a quality product. I never had it crash on me, or saw wide-spread reports of it crashing on others. This is a good set-up for Pages 2.0, which may now have enough features to get traction with a broader user base. (I’d go for it if Apple did upgrade pricing for existing customers.)

  21. Russell Page January 11, 2006 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    Guy. So quotable.

  22. Servant of Chaos January 11, 2006 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    Remember that people are the heart of your business. You make something they like and you have yourself a market. Keep people at the centre of your innovation cycle and make sure they are there from the beginning. Then everyone you touch will have a good story to tell that is just about YOU.

  23. Shay January 11, 2006 at 11:08 pm - Reply

    Thanks a bunch for the advice. Now this is useful!

  24. 2Weeks2aBreakthrough January 15, 2006 at 9:45 am - Reply

    Kawasaki on Innovation and Evangelism

    Here are two posts from Guy Kawasaki that will help anyone seeking breakthroughs. The first is called The Art of Innovation. He offers nine suggestions to fuel forward movement of innovation. Notice I did not just say – innovation. What

  25. Lispian's Radio Weblog January 15, 2006 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    Kawasaki and Startups

  26. larry borsato January 16, 2006 at 9:32 am - Reply

    Bleezer is shipping!

    The project I’ve been working on for the past couple of months –

  27. The Moleskin January 19, 2006 at 3:38 am - Reply

    What Dont Worry Be Crappy Really Means

    Over the past few years I have heard many people repeatedly use the phrase Dont Worry Be Crappy when they want to get software products released in a hurry. These people have completely missed a major point of Guys book R…

  28. Tradethis January 26, 2006 at 6:34 am - Reply

    Guy Kawasakis The Art of Innovation

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  29. Jin February 22, 2006 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    “Break down the barriers” is definately interesting.

  30. Max Soma April 19, 2006 at 4:51 am - Reply

    A wonderful post. In addition to Chairman Mao’s pearls of wisdom, point #1 probably covers the most significant barrier to innovation. Too often technology companies forget that incremental development is not the same as innovation.

  31. Paul Woods July 8, 2006 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    “Anybody Buying Technology Just for the Sake of Technology Just Doesn’t Get It”

    Does your organisation purchase technology and then think what to do with it? I am currently reading for the second time a great book by Microsoft Vice-President Bob McDowell, and William L. Simon called In Search Of Business Value. It

  32. Tomas Anderson July 20, 2006 at 5:25 am - Reply

    Guy, I ask You as at the expert.
    That You think of the following:
    www.I-eGod.com – First site in style of Web 3.0
    I think to become a Neuron.
    It would be interesting to receive Your advice.
    I read about: http://www.i-egod.blogspot.com

  33. Timothy Coote August 19, 2006 at 5:54 am - Reply

    There is the third catagory which Guy hasn’t mentioned who are neither losers nor innovators, they are, well, stuck in the middle with a certain security and have slid into bozosity quietly with the masses. Sometimes they think they are mobile and ready to adapt to all situations, but when push comes to shove they will stay in the herd. This promotes a mentality which is difficult to rise above. Not impossible but a little like dragging a tyre out of molasses.

  34. Skakunov A. August 19, 2006 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    #9 (No one at the company would jump through those hoops — it shouldn’t expect customers to either).
    Does it mean that a desire to create a product that you will definitely use yourself is an indicator of a successful project?

  35. eucap August 24, 2006 at 4:35 am - Reply

    Build It, Blog It, and They Will Come

    marketing innovation

  36. Casual Fridays August 25, 2006 at 7:13 am - Reply

    Polarizing Cupcakes

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  37. eucap September 23, 2006 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    Build It, Blog It, and They Will Come

    marketing innovation

  38. Ashwin September 24, 2006 at 8:10 am - Reply

    A recent reports that in the next 10 years, 110-130 million Indian citizens will be searching for jobs, including 80-100 million looking for their first jobs.Add up china and u have a billion potential innovators…isnt it time for u to look out of stanford and MIT?

  39. Louis van Proosdij Duport October 2, 2006 at 4:40 am - Reply

    Prospective et futurologie

    La prospective, et la futurologie plus largement, me passionnent.
    Je viens de lire trois articles intéressants que je vous recommande :
    Ci’Num 2006 sur Internet Actu
    A Margaux, les 6 et 7 octobre 2006, 100 participants et 14 experts venus d’Afriq…

  40. Frank Bauer October 3, 2006 at 9:37 am - Reply

    guy,
    great commandments. 8th is missing:
    “innovation (=product) is just the form of an idea”: make sure everybody involved really understands it and stays as close as possible to it during the to-market-time and after.

  41. BoostStrapping December 6, 2006 at 1:31 pm - Reply

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  42. Russell Page December 27, 2006 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    Favorite blog posts of 2006

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  43. New Persuasion January 12, 2007 at 1:15 pm - Reply

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  44. Gary January 27, 2007 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    Does anybody know of a highly innovative location to hold a workshop in the Bay Area? Recently I was in Chicago at a wonderful facility called Catalyst Ranch, and I have been hoping to find a similar venue in San Francisco. Thanks for any thoughts.

  45. Neil Davis February 20, 2007 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    I believe one source of innovation is everyday life. I recently found a great site called NewIdeaPedia.com. This site let’s you read about small business ideas and product ideas submitted by others. You can also submit your own ideas.

  46. EkaBlog - Site Blog for Ekaweeka the Small Business Community July 31, 2007 at 10:28 am - Reply

    Do Let It Slow You Down

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    Do Let It Slow You Down

    Alllllll the time people are talking about big plans, grand ideas, “the one that’s going to blow up”. Yes it’s definitely fun and easy to ramble on about how we’re going to grow up and obtain our first major success….

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  52. Articles November 10, 2007 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    Your post is reminiscent of Rules for Revolutionaries, which you signed for me at Seybold SF 1998 while I was still an employee. At first, I didn’t understand why the whole thing was written with what appeared to be jargon. Then life took an interesting turn and I lived the life of folding-chair-and-banquet-table-as-desk, wondering where the rent money and the food were coming from as we ate like birds and crapped like elephants, finding that eventually, the good ideas do stick, and the book made some great sense as I lived the entrepreneur’s life you described. Thanks for the inspiration,Guy. I have appreciated them in the middle of some unbelievable times.
    Articles

  53. comm November 11, 2007 at 4:06 am - Reply

    I think #2 (Don’t worry, be crappy), deserves some clarification. There are two axes of crappiness: missing features and bugs. Guy, I’m pretty sure you’re talking about missing features here, as those are your examples. Certainly any 1.0 product won’t have all the features you want. Trouble is, you don’t know which features your customers will really use, so you don’t always know what features you’re missing. But if your 1.0 is riddled with bugs, that’s a whole separate ball of wax. Customers will quickly discard your product and probably never consider buying 1.1 or 2.0.
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    I think Apple’s Pages 1.0 is a good example. They were going after established markets (word processing, page layout) with an innovative approach, but the product lacked some important features. People tried it and commented on the features they couldn’t live without — valuable information to Apple. While Pages 1.0 may not have revolutionized the markets it was going for, it was at least a quality product. I never had it crash on me, or saw wide-spread reports of it crashing on others. This is a good set-up for Pages 2.0, which may now have enough features to get traction with a broader user base. (I’d go for it if Apple did upgrade pricing for existing customers.)
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