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The New York Times had an interesting piece over the weekend analyzing the innovation model used by Apple Inc., suggesting that it is at once elitist and individual, representing something called the “auteur model of innovation.”

The story links the auteur approach favored by Apple CEO Steve Jobs to the “auteur theory” of moviemaking, in which films are seen as being “authored” by directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron.

“At Apple,” the Times writes, “there is a similar link between the ultimate design-team leader, Mr. Jobs, and the products. From computers to smartphones, Apple products are known for being stylish, powerful and pleasing to use. They are edited products that cut through complexity, by consciously leaving things out — not cramming every feature that came into an engineer’s head, an affliction known as ‘featuritis’ that burdens so many technology products.”

Jobs’ approach “is not a product-design philosophy steered by committee or determined by market research. The Jobs formula, say colleagues, relies heavily on tenacity, patience, belief and instinct. He gets deeply involved in hardware and software design choices, which await his personal nod or veto. Mr. Jobs, of course, is one member of a large team at Apple, even if he is the leader. Indeed, he has often described his role as a team leader. In choosing key members of his team, he looks for the multiplier factor of excellence. Truly outstanding designers, engineers and managers, he says, are not just 10 percent, 20 percent or 30 percent better than merely very good ones, but 10 times better. Their contributions, he adds, are the raw material of ‘aha’ products, which make users rethink their notions of, say, a music player or cellphone.”
KC's View:
This seems like the perfect story with which to start a new week, since innovation should be the heart and soul of every customer-oriented enterprise.

There are a number of points that I would like to make here, using Apple’s approach as reference point for what we all need to do in our businesses.

One. When retailers and manufacturers hire people, to what extent are they looking for the “multiplier factor of excellence”? Are they looking for leaders and innovators, or are they looking for managers and functionaries? And, are they creating a climate that encourages and rewards unorthodox thinking?

Two. What was the last “aha” product or service you had in your business?

Three. To what extent are you trying to look around the corner, to see where the future is headed? In another piece about the iPad in this morning’s New York Times, the always-excellent media columnist David Carr points out that the iPad is ideally constructed as the kind of media tool that would not only make cookbooks easy to read, but also allow them to feature video demos of how to make various recipes...but at the moment, there are precious few publishers creating books that incorporate such multimedia features. The point: it is critical to be able to see where the road to the future is taking us, and not to be reliant on old business models.

Four. Has your company fallen victim to “featuritis,” offering so many products and services that it does not reflect a specific mindset or creative vision?

These are questions, it seems to me, that all customer-focused businesses need to ask themselves. Without doing so, innovation may be painfully hard to achieve.

Think different.