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Guy Kawasaki on the art of innovation: Ten steps

As the former 'chief evangelist' at Apple, Guy Kawasaki has had plenty of experience selling the next new thing. Here's his take on the art of innovation.

As the top executive in charge of information technology, CIOs are feeling a lot of pressure to innovate. Or they...

should be.

According to Gartner, CEOs expect business revenue from digital offerings to increase more than 80% by 2020. For companies to keep up with the push to digital, IT departments must function not only as IT service providers but also as innovation partners to the business. But how exactly does innovation happen? And how do CIOs sell the idea that IT -- the organization that keeps the proverbial lights on -- is prepared to drive business strategy?

At the recent Gartner Business Intelligence and Analytics Summit, marketing guru Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist at Apple and chief evangelist at online graphic design tool company Canva, offered a 10-step manifesto for fostering the art of innovation.

Kawasaki on the art of innovation

  1. Make meaning. "The start of great innovation is to make meaning -- that is, to change the world," Kawasaki said. That's what Google did with information; it's what eBay did with commerce; and what Apple did with computing, he said.
  2. Make a mantra. Rather than an aspirational, hard-to-remember mission statement, Kawasaki's second art of innovation tip is to create a mantra. "Two or three words that can define what your innovation does, what your product does, what your service does so that everybody, especially internally, understands why it exists," he said.  He used Wendy's as an example of what not to do. The fast food chain's mission statement is to "deliver superior quality products and services for our customers and communities through leadership, innovation and partnership." If it were up to him, the Wendy's mantra would be "healthy fast food" -- a description both customers and employees can wrap their heads around, Kawasaki said.
    Guy KawasakiGuy Kawasaki
  3. Jump to the next curve. Companies often become so focused on what they do, they fail to see where the market is headed and adapt. Kawasaki pointed to ice harvesting as an example: In the late 1800s/early 1900s, harvesters would cut huge blocks of ice from frozen lakes. Thirty years later, ice factories put harvesting companies out of the work. Thirty years after that, the same pattern repeated itself with the introduction of the refrigerator. "Organizations need to step back and ask themselves not what do we currently sell or what our current process is, but what are the benefits that our customers derive," Kawasaki said. "The customer of an ice harvester, an ice factory and a refrigerator company all got the same thing: Cleanliness and convenience, the ability to store food longer."
  4. Roll the DICEE. Kawasaki believes innovative products derive from or embody the following five characteristics:
    • Depth: Innovative products anticipate what customers need -- before they know they need it. A Fanning sandal from Reef not only does what every shoe does -- protect the wearer's feet -- but the sole also doubles as a bottle opener.
    • Intelligent: Innovative products are smart. Ford's Mustang Shelby GT500 includes its MyKey system, which enables the owner to program several safety features such as a top speed limit. "When you look at them, you say, 'This company understood me,'" Kawasaki said, a father of teenage drivers.
    • Complete: Think Amazon, which started as an online book retailer and has evolved into a virtual hypermarket for just about everything, including products for IT departments.
    • Empower: The former chief evangelist at Apple pointed to the MacBook Air as a good example of a product that empowers the user with its sleek design and single operating system.
    • Elegant: Innovative products look and feel good, so user interface and industrial design should never be an afterthought.
  5. Let 100 flowers blossom. Companies can focus on customer needs all they want, but once they send a product into the wild, they cannot control how the product will be used. Rather than trying to correct course, companies should go with the flow. Apple did it with desktop publishing. And Avon did it with its Skin So Soft line, which earned street cred as an insect repellent. "If this ever happens to you: Take the money," Kawasaki said. "Don't be proud."
    Guy Kawasaki on stage at the Gartner BI and Analytics Summit
    Guy Kawasaki on stage at the Gartner BI and Analytics Summit
  6. Polarize people. "Some people are going to like [your product], some people are going to hate it," Kawasaki said. "The worst case scenario is that people don't care and you're not even on the radar." Digital disruptors like Uber are great examples of this. The ride-hailing company is loved by users (convenience) and hated by the taxi cab industry (competition). 
  7. Niche thyself. The secret to great innovation is to create a product that is unique and valuable. These two attributes are "the holy grail of marketing," Kawasaki said. "That's where margin is; that's where money is; that's where meaning is; and that's where history is made." Too often, products are one or the other, which means companies will have a hard time selling the product (if it's unique but not valuable) or will get caught up in price wars (if it's valuable but not unique). He cited Breitling Emergency, a Swiss watch with a distress beacon and Boeing V-22 Osprey, a helicopter-airplane hybrid, as examples of unique and valuable products. 
  8. Don't worry, be crappy. Kawasaki isn't saying companies should strive to make crappy products, but a revolution sparked by an innovative product can only happen if that product makes it to market. "If you wait for this perfect world where chips are cheap enough and fast enough and everything is right, you'll never ship," he said. "And if you never ship, the world will pass you by."
  9. Learn and churn. Kawasaki said this is the hardest lesson for innovators. As they're developing a new product, CIOs must ignore the naysayers and push forward. But "once you ship, you need to flip that bit and start learning from people," he said. "They're going to tell you how to make your revolution better." When Apple launched the iPhone, anyone looking to add functionality to an app was required to use a Safari plug-in. A year later, Apple announced it would open up the platform for developers. "One of the things I learned from Steve Jobs: Smart people change their minds," Kawasaki said. "It's dumb people who don't change their minds."
  10. Perfect your pitch. "If you want to be an innovator, you need to be able to pitch, to speak, to influence and to persuade people," he said. He provided these tips to attendees:
    • Customize your introduction. That includes doing your homework as to who you're pitching to. Kawasaki pointed to LinkedIn as an excellent research resource.
    • Follow the 10/20/30 rule. When putting together a PowerPoint presentation, think 10 slides in 20 minutes at a 30-point font. Trimming away the excess in text-filled slides will make a presentation five times better, he said.
    • Black backgrounds are bold. Because white backgrounds are the PowerPoint default, Kawasaki said this simple change is a "subliminal message that you care more about the presentation and, therefore, the audience."
  11. Bonus: Don't let the clowns grind you down. To be clear, Kawasaki is talking about clowns who are rich and famous and, by default, are often granted a certain amount of clout. Don't be swayed by these "bozos," Kawasaki said, because "rich and famous often parses to lucky, not smart." Instead, he advised building up resistance by considering how Western Union pooh-poohed the idea of the telephone or how Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., pooh-pooed the idea of the personal computer.

    "I wish I could tell you that every time someone tells you, 'You can't succeed; you won't succeed; it isn't necessary,' it means you'll succeed. It's not that easy," Kawasaki said. "But if you listen to these people and never try, you'll never know. And that's the worst outcome of all."

Next Steps

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To innovate, CIOs will have to get out of their comfort zones

How one CIO balances innovation and business efficiency

Dig Deeper on Digital business transformation and innovation

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