Goodness, not innovation, will lead to success
Wednesday, 24 February 2010, 12:37 Hrs
"From my studies of the history of business innovation, I'm convinced you can beat competitors and even dominate markets without fancy tricks. All you need is the ability to make things that are good consistently, since few companies do," says Berkun. "While we're fond of trumpeting the praises of Apple (AAPL), whose iPod revolutionized music, we forget how dismal the competition was. It was not a field of masterpieces; it was a motley crew of ugly, clunky, painfully hard-to-use devices. Apple applied basic design sense to an immature field at a time when the world was ready for something better."
Berkun talks about Firefox, which rekindled innovation in Web browsing, and arose from Microsoft's near abandonment of its Internet Explorer Web browser after the browser war with Netscape ended. Their version 6.0 release was a major step backward, opening the door for someone to win by merely providing something good, which Firefox did in 2004. Google was launched a decade after the invention of search engines; Amazon was not the first online bookstore. But they were both the first to do a good job at selling their good services for a good profit. "In retrospect, their successes seem amazing, but at the time, the goals were simple and the objective humble and clear: Be good, or at least better than the other guys. For they knew that alone was hard enough," says Berkun.
According to Berkun, the word 'innovation' is used to mean many different things, which is part of the problem. Executives and consultants throw it around like magic dust, hoping to cover their ignorance of why products and companies have done well or failed. But it's clear most companies fail not because of their lack of inventiveness; it's their lack of basic competence.
Berkun adds, "If you insist on doing something new, take this advice: Start with the important problems your customers, or your competitors' customers, have and try to solve them. If conventional approaches fail, you'll be forced to invent and be creative as a side effect of your goal. If you ask the creators of so-called breakthrough ideas, this is a common reason they found those breakthroughs in the first place. Their ambition wasn't to be called an innovator. They weren't planning to be disruptive or game changing. They merely had a tough problem to solve on their way to beating the competition in the forgotten practice of simply making better things."
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