Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Innovation over evolution?

In the morning session on the 20th of June we were asked, among other things, in what you believe in. I answered with “innovation over evolution”: I think it is better to take a risk and constantly come up with new ideas, instead of playing it safe and incrementally improving the same concept over and over again. By constantly challenging yourself to think of new ideas you help to create an atmosphere of progress and competition for the best way to do something, instead of a world where everything is predictable and stays the same. Sure, you will fail more often if you choose for innovation over evolution, but when your innovation is a success, you are sure to get a lot of praise for it, and you will get the attention of people who didn’t know about you before.

Let’s take Microsoft as an example of how it should not be done. Under the leadership of Steve Ballmer, the growth of Microsoft has been stagnant, while other companies, like Google and Apple, have been able to eat away market share from Microsoft. How could this happen? It didn’t happen because Microsoft didn’t have enough money for research into new products. It didn’t happen because Microsoft doesn’t have enough talented people. It did however happen, because Microsoft doesn’t dare to be innovative anymore.  More strongly put, they are too arrogant to innovate.

One example of this attitude could be seen at the introduction of the iPhone. You can see the reaction of Microsoft’s current CEO, Steve Ballmer, here.  His first reaction to the new product from Apple is to laugh at it. Now, this might have been a logical reaction when the company in question is unknown, and has no credibility whatsoever. But Steve is actually laughing at a product from a company that, before the launch of the iPhone, already had a major success, in the personal audio players space, with the iPod. The very market that Microsoft isn’t doing too well at with their own Zune.
He defends their stance by saying that their current technology is already capable of doing what Apple came up with. I don’t know if you have ever owned a phone with Windows Mobile 6 on it, but it is in no way comparable to a contemporary smartphone. You might be able to surf the web on it, use it as your agenda or listen to music from it, but the experience is so slow and unpolished that you want to avoid performing these tasks at all costs.  Instead of taking the hint from Apple that smartphones might be the next big thing, Microsoft sat back, pleased at their own superiority. The result is a mobile phone market with an OS marketshare of 53% for Android/Google, 27% for iOS/Apple, and a mere one percent for Windows 7 Phone/Microsoft as can be seen from this report, because they were too late to the smartphone OS party to make an impact and still lack various features that users of competing mobile operating systems took for granted months ago.

So you will say, Microsoft must surely have learned its lesson, and will not make the same mistake again in the future, right? Wrong! Case in point? The iPad. With the success of the iPhone, Microsoft should have more than enough proof of the capability of Apple to come up with new and exciting devices that resonate well with the market. Instead, their response to the iPad was:
“It is a humorous world in how Microsoft is much more open than Apple,”  -Brandon Watson, the director of product management in the developer platform at Microsoft. The response of Microsoft is again to laugh at the product of their competitor, and ignore its strengths. The strength of the iPad is, next to the Apple logo on the back, its simplicity, and how smooth the user experience is. You could say that the closed platform is the advantage of the iPad, not something to make fun of. When people use a tablet, they don’t want lots of options to customize the device to their liking, opening it up to all kinds of bugs and irregularities. Instead, they want an easy, sleek device, a device that just works.

Now, I am by no means an Apple fanboy, and my stance on their innovation is that oftentimes they do not actually come up with the innovations themselves, but instead are able to spot all existing innovations and combine them in a product that offers a highly polished user experience. The article Innovation or Evolution? got me to see that there is a fine line between innovation and evolution. As the article mentions, “… is it innovative to see that millions of people enjoy their iPods and their cell phones and realize that a combination cell phone/music player would be of interest to potential customers?” You could argue both ways: yes, it is innovative, because instead of making a new MP3-player with a somewhat improved interface and more storage, you combine two existing concepts to create a new concept, a cell phone/music player combination. On the other hand you could say that it isn’t innovative, because the two concepts which form the basis of the new concept already existed, thus marking the new concept as evolution instead of revolution. The article even boldly states that “Every new product and service launched by companies around the world is not innovative by definition.I leave up to you to decide whether Apple is an innovative company, or whether indeed a new product from an existing company can be truly innovative.

1 comment:

  1. Even though I feel like this matter has been addressed very well in this post, I also feel it's become outdated seeing as how Microsoft was used as the example to point out how a lack of innovation can have a destructive effect on what has already been achieved by a company and of course the progression of one.
    I even believe this concept goes way beyond simply industrial matters and can be applied to any kind of situation.
    But here's why I believe using Microsoft as an example doesn't do justice to this statement. Microsoft has recently come out with a new line of products that to me truly follow the concept of striving to innovate (the surface tablet-pc hybrid). They've taken what they know to work from looking at other products and added daring features that might completely change the market but could also just not be right for the market. I feel as though this fits the description of a risky innovation over static market plan quite well, making the statement that Microsoft lacks such a thing invalid to me.
    A better example might be to say that in the early stages of human development the same sort of stage occurred and it caused humanity to develop. This refers to things like humans that tried making multiple and different tools for all kinds of tasks while others refrained from doing so. Obviously the ones with better weapons had more change to successfully hunt and therefore survive, hereby proving innovation contributes to development. It might very well even be considered a necessity. The advantage of this example is that it can’t really become outdated and it avoids the nasty discussion like the famous Apple vs. Microsoft one. You even took the time to point out you’re not an Apple fan boy, which wouldn’t really have been necessary when you’re talking about cave men. Needless to say I have never had a flame war with someone on the Homo Erectus vs. Homo Sapiens matter.
    After writing all this down I’ve come the conclusion you might not agree with me at all and this comment most likely won’t really contribute to anything at all, but I’m satisfied with getting to write down my opinion on the matter, thanks for giving me the opportunity to do so.