INSEAD Knowledge has published an interview with Steve Jobs from 1996 which has a few very important points for R&D managers: Innovation is the only way to succeed – you can not cut costs to get out of problems.
“All I can say is I think it was true back when we built Apple and I think it is just as true today which is innovation is the only way to succeed in these businesses. You can’t stand still.
You can’t cut expenses and get out of your problems. You can’t cut expenses and get out of your problems. You’ve got to innovate your way out of your problems.
|image from Insead Knowledge
So, lets dig in…
We have discussed many of these points in the past, but this interview provides a few more details. First is the recurring theme of user-centric design – products should not require customers to learn underlying technology:
Well, one of the reasons I’m so interested in graphics is that it makes things accessible to people without them having to know how it works. So as an example, the Macintosh was really that – we used graphics to make it easy to use; it was the computer for the rest of us. And you didn’t really have to know all this computerese to use it because of the great graphics and user interface.
Even more interesting is the fact that Jobs took the same approach with Pixar: Movie goers should be able to enjoy the experience without worrying about 10 years of R&D that went into creating the movie. We have discussed this in detail in the post about focus on your niche.
And it’s the same way with Toy Story at a much higher level. An audience between 80 and 100 million people will hopefully see Toy Story by the time it rolls out throughout the world, and yet none of them had to read a manual before they saw the movie to appreciate it. None of them had to understand the technology and the ten years of R&D and investment that went in to be able to create that movie to enjoy it, and that’s what’s so wonderful.
Another foundation of successful R&D management is a long-term vision. Steve Jobs again demonstrates his ability to think long-term. He was working towards removing keyboard input back in the mid 90s:
And I see more and more of that infusing society where you have a tremendous technology but it has a face which is very approachable and you don’t have to understand the technology to interact or use the product….
You know I think that’s the potential of the Internet. We’re certainly not there today. Typing an H-T-T-P slash slash colon w-w-w, you know, is arcane. I mean, you shouldn’t even need a keyboard to use the Internet but we still do. And I think we’ll get to where it really is very simple, but we have a few years to go.
The next lesson for us R&D managers is that of hands-on involvement. An engaged leader is critical to motivating teams and delivering innovation (by overcoming problems such as valley of death). Jobs was not had the vision of where products need to go, he was involved in detailed technology development and the business models that need to be developed to support the new technology. In this case, he was developing a vision about iTunes in mid-90s…
We look at the internet and it looks very exciting to us, but we don’t see how to make any money from it. We haven’t seen any business models emerge where we can put content on the Internet and end up being rewarded for that. And since our talented people always have opportunities to work on things where we do get financially rewarded, we’re not about to take them off that and put them on the Internet until we see a business model that makes sense. And I think we will, you know, in the next one to two years.
We have a lot of interesting posts about innovation management…