Apple – The Open Innovation Exception

by Stefan Lindegaard

Apple - The Open Innovation ExceptionBen Verleg recently asked about my views on Apple and innovation. The short version is that I am big fan of Apple products and if you can make such great products, you obviously also do well with regards to innovation.

One thing I really like about Apple is that they seem to understand that innovation goes beyond the product itself. Think iTunes, other services, design and marketing. They execute very well on this.

Apple is a very unique company and innovation is in their corporate DNA. This is the highest level of innovation maturity a company can reach and it is a very strong asset that other companies have a hard time competing against.

Such a strong innovation culture is the envy of many companies and they try hard to achieve a similar position. I have no doubt that they can find much inspiration at Apple. However, innovation DNA is hard to define. A company – as well as their internal and external stakeholders – knows it when they have it, but it is hard to define.

Apple employees can share why their company is unique and they can offer great insights that can inspire others. Getting such inspiration is unfortunately just a tiny element of implementing and building a strong innovation culture. There are just so many things that need to fall into place over a longer period of time.

It helps if the executives know what they are doing, if the employees are passionate as well as capable and if customers love your products. Still, you do not have any guarantees as you also have to get the right amount of luck at the right times.

Apple is by no means a good example on open innovation. This prompted Ben Verleg to ask a fair question: What is the value of a theory when one of the most successful companies lives another theory?

There will always be exceptions to the rule. Apple is a unique company and they are definitely an exception that shows you do not have to open up your innovation processes in order to build great products and services. Just remember that Apple is very hard to copy…

We also have to remember that companies should start open innovation efforts by asking why they should do this. What are their specific reasons for doing this? It should not be done just because their competitors are doing it.

I am sure Apple is asking the why question and that they are opening up their process where they believe there are good reasons to do so. This is how all companies should approach open innovation.

There is no doubt that I like Apple. Actually, the only big question mark I have is what Apple will be without Steve Jobs. I have always said that no single person is irreplaceable, but once again, Apple is a unique company.

Let me know what you think on Apple and innovation.

Image Credit: The Economist

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Stegan LindegaardStefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.

No comments

  1. Has anyone looked closely at what Apple actually does regarding innovation? It seems as though if innovation is as pervasive in their “corporate DNA” it would be interesting to see how pervasive it is in the way that they treat their people: skills targeted for hiring and training, how people are rewarded and promoted, performance incentives, etc. Innovation obviously doesn’t just “happen” of course, so there must be a method behind how Apple has managed to create such a culture while other companies have failed. It’s clear that Apple is “Different”…What I’m wondering is exactly how and why they are different.

    Good post!

  2. Some thoughts on why Apple seems to prosper without the apparent advantages of Open Innovation. First consider some reasons that companies benefit from Open Innovation:
    • Access to new viewpoints and “outside the box” thought.
    • Access to new skills or capabilities.
    • Moving innovation outside the current culture which may be “innovation-averse.”
    • Involvement of additional resources to speed development.
    • Partner with a company or resource with a greater innovation-centered orientation.

    One thought about Apple is that they may be so “innovation centered” in their DNA, and that they think so far outside the box, that there are fewer companies with which to partner effectively. They are a “computer company” that:
    • Moved into music players, then music media, then audio/visual media (podcasts, movies, TV, etc.);
    • Moved into phones and communications;
    • Moved into alternative print media readers, then print media content.

    There are simply few companies that could partner with Apple that would be equal to or farther along the innovation-culture curve, and therefore Open Innovation would slow Apple down. Too much of the “I don’t get the vision; I don’t understand; I don’t think we can do that” thinking. Open Innovation partnering is to get a boost forward in the process, but you need an equal or leading partner to gain the benefits. The more innovation is in your system, the less you need to share it. The real question is whether Apple can keep this process if Steve Jobs leaves. In a sense, the current Open Innovation is between Apple the company and Steve Jobs the visionary.

  3. Justin, you raise some good questions. I would like to learn more about this as well. Let me know if you – or others – can suggest some good reads on this.

    Stefan

  4. Stefan,

    Actually, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say that Apple doesn’t employ Open Innovation, and is therefore an exception. They simply do so in a very different way than others might consider it. In my view, Open Innovation includes also the co-creation of value to end users, and in this regard, the ecosystems formed by Apple lead to a lot of co-created value to end users. The AppStore, iTunes Store, and iBookstore are all examples of this. The iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad would each have had significantly less value had there not been a plethora of applications and content for them. Their utility would have been limited to basic functions available on the device.

    Their ecosystem is highly controlled, but it is still an ecosystem that has relatively few limitations on the extraction of value (much more can be done, than cannot). Developers are what is creating the value of these devices and Apple is merely enabling this.

    As I said, a different form of open innovation, but I’d argue that all that materially create an eco-system of innovation fostering innovation by others, and thriving as a result, are indeed employing open innovation.

    Tal

  5. Tal, you – and others – make some good points. I agree that Apple is more open than I give them credit for in my blog post. I will look further into their efforts and hopefully I can find some interesting learnings on this. As mentioned in my earlier comment – suggestions for good reads and more is highly appreciated…

    Stefan

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