As the dust settles on Apple’s yearly product launch, what can we take away from the practices of a company whose name is synonymous with innovation?
Each year in advance of the company’s annual September product launch, the media builds considerable buzz about any ground-breaking innovation that’s set to ignite the world’s imaginations. Our hearts race just thinking about the possibilities set to transform our lives.
This year’s product release, however, was met with considerably less enthusiasm.
As Bradley Keenan writes on LinkedIn, the updates this year “seemed pretty trivial.” There was the removal of the headphone jack, improved AI (Siri) capability, more emoji’s, faster processor speeds, better cameras, waterproofing and GPS-ing the Apple Watch.
However, Keenan actually makes the opposite argument: that these less flashy changes to Apple’s flagship products do important – perhaps essential – work in maintaining their lead in the marketplace by making smarter, subtle changes that cumulatively advance Apple’s competitive edge across several key areas.
For example, the controversial removal of the headphone jack paves the way for Apple to take ownership of this technology at a time when several other wireless headphones have just emerged in the market.
So what can we learn from Apple’s 2016 product launch? The key takeaway might very well be the significant, yet oft-overlooked, value in small-scale changes that can have long-term cumulative effects on large-scale company innovation.
The best innovations come when there is both openness and focus, both flexibility and stability, explains Gaia Grant, the author of several books on innovation and Masters candidate at The University of Sydney. While many managers think that hierarchy can stifle innovation, in fact “the dynamic tension between the two apparently opposing approaches can lead to the best innovations.”
Changing mindsets, she explains, is the key to developing a culture of innovation.
“Innovations are rarely out-of-the-blue breakthrough revolutions, although they might appear to be by the time they are revealed,” she says. “They are usually instead built on a series of small-scale incremental changes.”
Human resource managers can start by introducing practices and processes, such as training and development programs, as well as ensuring that innovative ideas are supported and nurtured. Rather than seeing problems as insurmountable challenges, she explains, this approach helps people start to “think of challenges as opportunities, and to explore potential alternative options.”
The best way to approach innovation, she explains, is “constantly encouraging people to think small in order to eventually have a big impact.”
Apple’s culture evolution is a perfect example of this approach. “While Steve Jobs was all about breaking the boundaries and experimenting with radical new ideas, Tim Cook has been more about preservation and small incremental innovations.”