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The Economist on Apple and Innovation

I'm usually right on top of new issues of The Economist, but I managed to miss last week's cover story on Apple. There's a long piece on the history of Apple and Steve Jobs, and then a shorter piece on what other firms can learn from Apple. The lessons boil down to four:

  1. Innovation can come from without as well as within.
  2. The importance of designing new products around the needs of the user, not the demands of the technology.
  3. Smart companies should sometimes ignore what the market says it wants today.
  4. Fail wisely.
I find the third point especially on the mark. The Economist writes:
Listening to customers is generally a good idea, but it is not the whole story. For all the talk of “user-centric innovation” and allowing feedback from customers to dictate new product designs, a third lesson from Apple is that smart companies should sometimes ignore what the market says it wants today. The iPod was ridiculed when it was launched in 2001, but Mr Jobs stuck by his instinct. Nintendo has done something similar with its popular motion-controlled video-game console, the Wii. Rather than designing a machine for existing gamers, it gambled that non-gamers represented an untapped market and devised a machine with far broader appeal.
Generally speaking, breakthrough products -- from the Walkman to the iPod, from the Atari 2600 to the Wii, from Yahoo to Google -- don't come from focus groups and market research. They come because passionate, inventive individuals create visions of how things could be -- from portable music to video games to Internet search -- and then set out to make those visions real. If customers agree with them, so much the better -- but in the end, they're building products for themselves.


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