The Golden Goose and the Process of Innovation

on November 22, 2013

Horace Dediu joined Benedict Evans and I on our weekly podcast. Horace wrote something that got me thinking in his post the innovators curse. In this article he used the analogy of the golden goose. As I read that I interpreted the golden eggs to represent innovation. While I pondered his insight, what it led me to think about is how this story may relate to Apple. What I concluded, was that those in Wall St. who chant the innovation mantra as the only way for Apple to succeed, survive, and grow, believe that Steve Jobs was the golden goose. And now that he is gone, the golden egg of innovation is gone from Apple forever. I fundamentally disagree and I believe that the golden goose of innovation is core to Apple’s culture not a single individual. What is unique is that this culture was created by a very unique individual but was designed to not be dependent ON any one individual. It requires the right group of people not the right single individual.

This is contrary to how many companies operate where there is one primary rock star and his team. For Apple the team, is the rock star not the individual.

During the discussion, we discussed Pixar and how Jobs saw a team for which this unique culture was possible and implemented it at Pixar. Who despite all odds, continues to be a blockbuster creation factory. The same proved true at Apple who continually creates hit products and it is directly because of both process and people. But both companies fall victim to their own succes in the innovators curse. With each hit, the external view is that the next one becomes statistically less probably and less believable that it will happen again.

Both Pixar and Apple are unique in this regard to their culture. One would think that with each consecutive hit, the market would recognize that a track record is established and repetition becomes more likely not less. However the opposite is true. This is the innovators curse.

It seems most recognize that Steve Jobs was unique and that his unique way of doing things was impactful in creating innovative products. What seems to be missed is that his uniqueness can extend to a culture, or perhaps a lasting legacy, unique to companies where his imprint remains. This was a great discussion and a difficult topic to address. If you like deep discussions on this stuff then I encourage you to listen.

Cubed Episode 10: The Process of Innovation