2 Simple Lessons on Innovation from Apple

March 31, 2014 9:01 pm Published by

Few company brands have been more characterized by innovation than Apple’s. It’s not just that they sold a boatload of products. And it’s not simply that they took a company that looked like it might wither away and turned it into a financial colossus. What they did with the introduction of the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad was to redefine whole industries.

Of course there is a whole lot that went into the Apple success story (and they are certainly not without their faults). It would be hugely presumptive to distill their success down to two simple things. At the same time, we can learn a couple of valuable lessons from the way they design their products. And the one man most responsible for the design aspect of Apple’s innovative products was not Steve Jobs, but Jony Ive.

A recent Techcrunch article revealed a couple of very telling bits of information about the process Ive goes through. You can read the whole article here, but let’s take a look at two important lessons.

Use a Small Team: The team the Jony Ive works with is relatively small: only about 15 people. If you’re a small business 15 people may sound like a large team. But when you consider Apple’s size (and talent pool) that’s a very small team. The team is carefully selected and has largely been together since the introduction of the iPod.

One advantage of working with a small team is that it’s manageable. If your “Idea Team” is too big, it’s hard to keep them focused. Another advantage that the Apple design team’s longevity brings to the table is that they’ve checked their egos at the door. Ive says that one of the advantages of his team is that, “The personal issues of ego have long since faded.”

Though small, the team is also diverse—comprised of designers from Britain, the U.S., Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The advantage there is that Apple is an international company. They don’t just appeal to a U.S. market. Your company may not reach international markets, but there’s a good chance that your customer base is comprised of more than one type of customer. Does your “Idea Team” represent the interests and personalities of your whole base?

Go Outside Your Box for Inspiration: When Ive and his team looked for design inspiration for products, they didn’t just focus on what other people in the space where doing. Remember those brightly colored iMac computers that came out a few years back—and looked like nothing else on the market? Guess who helped Ive create that look? It wasn’t Dell, or Gateway, or IBM. It was a group of candy makers!

And when Apple introduced the first all-aluminum laptop, Ive didn’t go to the same suppliers that had been making plastic housing for computers for years. Instead he traveled to a small northern Japanese community to observe how their craftsmen did metalwork with thin materials.

You don’t have to do everything Apple does in order to succeed. And chances are you’re not in a position to do things on the same scale. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a thing or two about innovation from a company that urged customers to, “Think Different!”

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This post was written by Chuck Kocher