The Golden Goose and the Process of Innovation

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

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

11 thoughts on “The Golden Goose and the Process of Innovation”

  1. I think for analysts (financial mostly but some tech ones as well) it is hard to trust a process you do not fundamentally understand. Knowledge is derivative. Steve Jobs didn’t magically create new knowledge so much as he applied a variety of principles and ideas in new ways. The overwhelming number of engineers and entrepreneurs tend to have backgrounds in “left-brain” areas and have few “right-brain” interestes. Jobs was fascinated by technology but he was also fascinated by many other things as well. Origami, calligraphy, Eastern philosophy, liberal arts as well as art and music in general. He even experimented with drugs. He blended those diverse experiences into an approach and process. I don’t think the process is complex so much as it requires a way of looking at things that few people have. It’s as if most of the people in the world are color-blind but a few, like Jobs, are able to see the whole spectrum. To those who can not see those colors, it may seem like magic.

    One of Steve Jobs’ most important traits was that he was not an egotistical person. Arrogant? Sure. Confrontational? Absolutely. But, as Tim Cook astutely pointed out, Jobs could be convinced of an idea with which he initially disagreed. And he had the unique ability to admit fault, if not vocally at least to himself. That is the only way a person is able to change and to grow. Jobs wasn’t convinced of his own infallibility. To the contrary, he seemed to be accutely aware that he was not always right and others were not always wrong. The only stipulation on his part seemed to be that you had to be able to make a compelling case for your position. That’s a trait very few people possess.

    Jobs didn’t view his approach as alchemy as some people, particularly industry analysts, seem to. He just understood that technology should be a whole brain endeavor. He drew from pools of knowledge from which few others in technology draw. It’s a rare talent but not necessarily hard to understand by its nature. Some people just aren’t looking in the right place.

  2. A colleague of mine 11 yeas ago was quoting a book he was reading on corporate cultures. He was intrigued with its proposition that corporations are cultures, and founders of said corporations success is largely determined by how well the culture carries on after the founder leaves, for whatever reason.
    Southwest and Herb Kelleher come to my mind as an example.
    Mr. Jobs knew what was happening to him for a good many years. I cannot recall, but I seem to remember (help me here anybody?) that he did take some steps to institute within Apple some sort of think tank or some such to perpetuate Apple’s corporate culture.
    Ironically , last I heard my colleague was working for Apple.

    1. It’s called Apple U (not to be confused with iTunes U, which is available to everyone on iTunes, check it out), which is a compedium of case histories of Apple business decisions (maybe even some design and product case studies as well) that Apple managers (and only Apple employees) take. It was set up by a dean of a business school (Stanford? Harvard?) whom Steve Jobs recruited.

      1. Joel Podolny, a sociologist, and the dean of the Yale business school, one of the authors of a book on Xerox, and the author of a book with the interesting title (especcially considering Apple’s market positioning) “Status Signals: A Sociological Study of Market Competition” [product of 5 minutes with Google, Duckduckgo and Abebooks]

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