The map shows Iceland. I’m over the Atlantic on my flight to JFK, just a stop before Arizona and Connected Enterprise 2011.
When Ray called me a year ago to ask me if I’d be willing to join a new company he was setting up, I didn’t hesitate much. I actually didn’t hesitate at all. I felt like a total junior compared to him & some of the guys he was bringing along.
On November 10, we officially launched. And look where we are now. We’ve been gathering even more stars in our Constellation — losing some in the process, even though they’ll remain with us forever, as stars’ signature never really dissapear. We’ve gained lots of traction, clients, media coverage, mentors. And we’re organizing our first event, a TED meets LeWeb meets Web2.0 conference —pesposterous? You know what they say, shoot for the moon, you’ll end up in the stars. In Constellations.
And we’ve been named best New Analyst Firm of the year by IIAR. What more can you ask?
Well, I’ll ask more. I’ll ask that you keep bearing with us. You might think many call themselves disruptive just for branding reasons. Constellations’ shapes are disruptive by nature. They embrace new stars, leave others become brighter. Constellations like brightness, wherever it comes from. We all shine together.
Look at the sky tonight, you will see some new bright lights reflecting from Scottsdale.
Welcome to Connected Enterprise 2011.
Experience, discover, learn. Be enthusiastic.
The best experiences in life come unexpected. This was one. I wasn’t expecting that a conference in west-central Poland would be so key for my thirst in understanding innovation around the world. I’m still taking it all in.
The question about what is innovation is one that fascinates me. I remember this debate with my Constellation colleagues over what metric or set of data could be used to measure and value innovation. There was no definite answer. There will never be one. Innovation is as much an input than an output. And innovation takes as many forms as there would be definitions anyway.
But still, innovation is my focus. Just that I’m not trying to define innovation as a metric, but as a process.
My presentation itself was a process. I was putting some finishing touches to my e-nnovation talk when the news that Steve Jobs had passed away hit my screen. For an entire morning, I was not able to work. I was not able to focus. It touched me in ways that are too personal for me to share.
I never met my greatest mentor. I wanted so much to be like him. But, his message was the opposite. Be yourself, with passionate intensity.
Naval nailed it. I scrapped my presentation. Restarted one. It is not perfect. But it is what I wanted to do that day. Be myself.
The five lessons
I arbitrarily chose five lessons that we could derive from Steve Jobs’ legacy. Connect the dots. Never fear failure. Marry art & science. Possess a sense of vision. Create the future.
This is, for me, the essence of I2C, innovation-to-consumers.
——use Safari 5+ in order enjoy the fully-animated presentation.
Here’s the gist of my speech.
Connect the dots
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something —your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
We’ve known videocassettes, we’ve known CDs and DVDs, we know hard drives. We’ve gone from analog to digital. We’ve gone from purely physical to bits. This is where you start when you want to innovate. You understand the trends. You pay homage to the past. Respect it. And then hack it.
By understanding it, I don’t mean looking at the past’s content, but by realizing that we’re witnessing the death of friction, the multiplication of screens & platforms and that many goods are becoming purely transient —in so far as their physical envelope is being taken away from them.
Never fear failure
This is one I’m constantly hearing when I work with the startup ecosystem. There’s a reason why. With fear of failure comes no breakthrough. No innovation.
Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.
That quote is not perfect, as Don Dodge would say in a talk unrelated to Jobs the following day: sometimes you just have to keep on making mistakes on the same idea. At one point, you’ll nail it. But, do hack your culture, be honest with yourself and the feedback provided by your peers —whether you want to dismiss it or embrace it.
Apple’s history is filled with failures, one pundits like to mock when they address fanboys. But still: the Newton, eWorld and the Pippin. We now have the iPad, iCloud and the iPhone, one of the most successful gaming platforms around.
Plus, what is the true meaning of a success —the evil twin of failure? As Benjamin Joffe brilliantly mentions in many of his talks, the meanings are culturally-sensitive. Just look at ‘Quality’. In the US, it means that something just works (as advertised I could add). In Japan however, it means perfection. In South Korea? New. And in China, quality is linked with the status it provides.
The status. Remember that one.
Marry art & science
I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, poets, artists, zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.
Be elegantly human. In an earlier article about the reactions to the proposed Netflix/Qwister businesses, I laid out some basics consumer behaviors traits. Human behaviors that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Apple was able to work upon those. By often staying close to what humans expect from products or services —an art—, it offered bridges. Bridges from the CDs to the hard drives world —the iPod. Bridges from digital to bits.
No, it was not the first company to offer a portable music player. Nor the first one to offer downloads. Nor even the first one to link the two. But it was the first one who understood that humans were on the other side of the machine. Be elegantly human.
In a nutshell, humans are loyal to their habits. We don’t want to lose the comfort. Especially because it’s our own comfort. We also tend to value this current comfort more than a later comfort. Innovation needs bridges.
Possess a sense of vision
You can’t just ask customers what they want and they try to give that to them.
It is important to understand that although rational, not all humans activities are rationalized. Meaning that we all do stuff according to habits, needs or enjoyment. And we’re not always aware of those divisions.
Innovation must take time as a factor to consider. Pietro Zuco touched this concept when he wrote about targeting iPhone applications for the right type of time. There’s busy time —usually work. There’s free time —where its allocation is freely determined by us. And there’s dead time —in a doctor’s waiting room for instance.
This is key. Key because the success —or failure— of every innovation is not due to pure circumstances, but by, again, looking at what consumers are doing. There is a competition for this time.
And the competition is more complex than it looks. It also evolves.
Angry Birds —and the whole “social” or “casual” gaming craze— is just a shot in the past. Remember those pinballs and arcade games? One penny, one game. One limited time span.
Let’s go further. Taking inspiration from both late talks with gaming industry expert Francesco Fondi in Tokyo and Michael E. Porter’s Five Forces, a famous theory related to business development, I’ve created a framework for the competitive rivalry in consumer-oriented innovation.
I’m proposing four threats in this rivalry:
- — The Threat of Time
- — The Threat of Substitute Entertainment
- — The Threat of Price
- — The Threat of New Entrants
Yes, there’s actually a more general threat than time and attention, one that the gaming industry has, for the major part, yet to grasp: The Threat of Substitute Entertainment, i.e Twitter is a direct competitor of Angry Birds. Having a beer with friends is a direct competitor with your XBox gaming time. All human activities are in competition —even if they can overlap. News reading can be pitched against listening to music. Window-shopping against updating your LinkedIn profile.
Let me stop here for now. My research is on-going, I need to brush the rough edges of this theory.
Create the future
Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.
Once you have the start of the drawing —connecting the dots, once you have surpassed your fear of failure, once you’ve understood humanity as an art as much as a science —don’t be just a salesman and once you’ve risen above what the past teaches you —the vision, you can start imagining the future.
The future is virtual. And we already live in a virtual world.
You car is virtual. You, like the Chinese thinking “new”, are also buying for status. For the image it provides you. For the lifestyle it makes you feel part of. Or for the sentimental value it triggers. That’s virtual.
Look around you and think. How do you assess value to the things that surround you? How do you value your possessions?
Yes, you live in a virtual world. We all do. It’s there. Around you. All the time.
So, don’t discount those virtual items that are all the rage in Asia. I might not buy any, but I’m still from a generation that has known VHS tapes. I rationalized content as physical. It never actually was. It was always virtual, just with a physical box. The next generations will not have these stigmas from the past. Those dots we have a hard time connecting sometimes will just feel natural for them.
It will be their reality.
It’s my choice to make it mine.
I’m naked, I’ve got nothing to lose.
So do you.