Although I am definitely a fan of Steve Jobs and think of him first when thinking of great innovators, one part in the book – also mentioned in “Pirates of Silicon Valley” – did not sit well with me. When Jobs discusses his calligraphy training and how this lead to the idea to make reader-friendly and aesthetically pleasing typography on the Mac, he claims that he had never taken that calligraphy class “the Mac would have never has multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.” This strikes me as ignorant because Jobs is essentially assuming that no one else could have possibly had the idea to make the font on a computer look pretty. I agree that this was an innovative move, but I believe that, eventually, someone else would have had the same idea. It is very possible for different people to have the same original idea – it’s said that calculus was thought up simultaneously by different people on opposite sides of the globe. I know I’ve made up jokes before that were completely original and then find out other people have made them too. Although he had the innovative idea, I disagree with Jobs that personal computers would not have attractive fonts had he never attended a calligraphy class.
I definitely agree with the section of the book that talks about the great importance of asking questions. If you aren’t constantly asking questions about your product and business structure then you run the risk of becoming complacent. The books claims that there was a direct relationship between innovators who ask more provocative questions and innovators with a large number of ideas and I definitely see this being true. The book focuses on disruptive questions in particular that “puncture the status quo with why, why-not, and what-if questions that uncover counterintuitive, surprising solutions”. I agree that these sorts of disruptive questions are essential to innovation because they provoke new thought processes that may have never been touched before. The book then goes further and describes two different tactics of asking “what is” and “what caused” questions. With “what is” questions, innovators look for answers about what is happening now – focusing mainly on the present. “What caused” questions focuses mostly on the past to see why things are the way that they are. I believe that if you have a good grasp on the past and the present, you can start to focus on the future and how to innovate in the future.
One of the innovative companies this book uses as an example is India’s Hindustan Lever. This company “recruited women in self-help groups across rural India to become direct-to-consumer sales distributors for its soaps and shampoos.” Hindustan Lever trained these women who had no experience or job training and showed them essentially how to be entrepreneurs. We learned a lot about this in my International Management class last semester. We watched a video of a woman who told the story about how her husband left her and their two children so she had to start providing for herself. She did this by working for Hindustan Lever, travelling to rural villages and selling the people soap and hygiene products. Hindustan Lever is providing jobs to people who really need them, and is making money in the process. The fact that these saleswomen for Hindustan Lever are travelling to rural villages is a huge deal for the company because most rural villagers don’t have transportation and therefore couldn’t access the product by themselves. This is an innovative solution to a major problem and Hindustan Lever is reaping the rewards. In class, we also learned about another measure that this company is taking – educating Indian citizens about the dangers of germs and bacteria. We watched another video where people in India did not even know what germs were or the negative effects that could come from them. Hindustan Lever goes around and educates citizens about how important it is to remove germs, and sells soap in the process. If no one in India realizes how important soap and laundry detergent is, then they probably wont buy it. By doing these germ education classes, Hindustan is creating their target market, proving the need for their product, and then selling that product. Hindustan Lever shows innovation in their structure, by hiring a vast network of employees
An interesting point I found in this book was the section entitled “A Lack of Business Innovation May Stifle Technology Innovation”. This section focuses on an example from 3M where a product group invented a new gift bag that could change colors. The business end of 3M did not approve of this venture saying that the market was not big enough to invest in this new product. They said that although the market for gift bags and boxes is huge, in order to get a desired profit margin, they would have to price the gift bag higher, which would shrink the market to a small niche that was not worth 3M’s pursuit. This is a good example of how innovation on the technology side can be halted by a lack of innovation on the business. The book believe that there has to be innovation on the business end as well, saying that “The company can miss disruptive opportunities that it wouldn’t miss if it could only innovate a bit more in how it manufactures, distributes, markets, prices, or allocates resources to a product.” I definitely agree with the authors and believe that in order for a company to have an innovative product, they must first have an innovative business structure. Without being innovative on the business end, companies cannot support their technological innovations.