We all need to be creative and innovative nowadays, as a person as well as a company. At least that’s what we understand from the media and from all those consultants. But does it really matter to be creative? Do we all need to be able to come up with remarkably original ideas? To understand this, let’s take for example the most mentioned innovation of the last decade: the iPod. The question is: was Apple’s iPod really such an innovation? Where did the creative ideas come from?
- MP3 technology? Well I guess I don’t need to argue that MP3 technology long existed before the first iPod came out (the first mentioning of the technology dates back to the 20th century when the standard was released by the Moving Picture Expert Group in 1993);
- It’s design and functionalities? Apple has confirmed that the original design and technology of the iPod came from Kane Kramer, a British inventor, who patented it in 1979 (his idea fell in public domain in 1988);
- It’s easy to use touch screen? The original idea for the touch screen was invented by Jason Ford of Elo TouchSystems (formally EloGraphics) in the 1970s;
- The business model with iTunes? MusicNet and Pressplay already had developed online music stores before Apple did;
So what was it then that made Apple’s product and business model such a big hit? And why is it that Apple is seen as such an innovative company, while the individual characteristics of the iPod and iTunes are not such original ideas at all? Well, Apple combined all the ideas and inventions mentioned above, incorporated them in the iPod and iTunes and did it a little better than anybody else (while making sure to stay ahead in the game). Besides that, the company knew how to market the innovation and how to protect it.
Steve jobs believes that great artists steal ideas (Interview with Steve Jobs (1994) about the creation of the Apple Macintosh) and use them for their competitive advantage. We all know that it is difficult to come up with completely new technology, design or business models. When you think you have a new idea, just search on the internet and you will see that others already have came up with your idea. Innovation is about bringing ideas to life, implementing them and more important, extracting value from them. Knowing that nowadays you can access the minds and ideas of several millions of people on the planet, it might be worth using some of these ideas instead of trying to come up with them yourself. Don’t get me wrong, being creative is surely important, but maybe, instead of trying to become the inventor of the year, you might want to find some ideas out there and transform them so they generate value for you and your organization.
Caspar van Rijnbach is a specialist in innovation management and partner at TerraForum Consulting in Brazil – www.terraforum.com.br and www.terraforum.ca. Co-author of “Innovation: Breaking Paradigms” and “Management 2.0’’ (in Portuguese).