Apple, the iPod and networked innovation.

If you’ve been keeping tabs on this blog recently you know that I do love my apple computer and that I’m curious about networks and how networks can accelerate innovation. This weeks cover story for The Economist is “What other companies can learn from Apple.”

The magazine sets out four ideas:

“The first is that innovation can come from without as well as within…its real skill lies in stitching together its own ideas with technologies from outside and then wrapping the results in elegant software and stylish design. The idea for the iPod, for example, was originally dreamt up by a consultant whom Apple hired to run the project. It was assembled by combining off-the-shelf parts with in-house ingredients such as its distinctive, easily used system of controls. Apple is, in short, an orchestrator and integrator of technologies, unafraid to bring in ideas from outside but always adding its own twists. Making network innovation work involves cultivating contacts with start-ups and academic researchers, constantly scouting for new ideas and ensuring that engineers do not fall prey to “not invented here” syndrome, which always values in-house ideas over those from outside.”

“Second, Apple illustrates the importance of designing new products around the needs of the user, not the demands of the technology. Too many technology firms think that clever innards are enough to sell their products, resulting in gizmos designed by engineers for engineers. Apple has consistently combined clever technology with simplicity and ease of use.”

“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.”

“The fourth lesson from Apple is to “fail wisely”. The Macintosh was born from the wreckage of the Lisa, an earlier product that flopped; the iPhone is a response to the failure of Apple’s original music phone, produced in conjunction with Motorola.”

It seems to me that these are all attributes which government could use well. Perhaps the hardest for government is the idea of ignoring what the market (voter) says it wants today – although one of the key functions of good government is to have an understanding of the future and make plans for it.

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