Expert's Opinion

Why Apple, Ford and Microsoft Thrive

By Robert Brands, Innovation Coach | December 13, 2010

Innovation is the key component for success in the New Economy, argues Robert Brands.

Six out of ten new businesses fail. Unemployment numbers aren’t getting any better. The housing market is set for another bump in the road next quarter. And as if the cake needed icing, the FDIC is reporting that about half of America’s banks—including the four largest—are on the bubble, and may fail by the end of the year. As we search for answers to the dilemma, it will be increasingly important to focus on a principle that is often overlooked in hard times: innovation.
The equation is simple: innovate or perish. At every major crossroads in the history of American business, innovation has been the driving force behind the companies that made it through the bad times. After all, as we all look for the hot new product or the ‘killer app’ in our respective industries and professions, we tend to overlook the fact that someone has to create or invent it first.
In doing our research for Robert’s Rules of Innovation (, it became apparent that innovation is the governing philosophy behind companies that succeed.
Whether it is a multinational corporation or an entrepreneurial startup, innovation can help a business launch, recover or overcome even the greatest of competitive pressures. If you are a manufacturer, distributor, service provider, supplier, retailer or even a not-for-profit, the pressures of the new economy are worse than anything the business world has seen for decades.
So, how do you get through it? Look at the companies that are prospering, despite the economy. Apple, Ford, Microsoft and others didn’t stand pat as the economy crashed. They reinvented themselves and their product and service lines. After falling behind to Japanese competition amid the GM bailouts, Ford went back to the drawing board on its line of cars and emerged stronger than before, having one of their best quarters ever. It wasn’t layoffs or the mitigation of risk that accomplished that. It was innovation, creating something new to satisfy its customer base.
Further, it is important for all of us to expand our notion of innovation. When people think of innovation, many of think of simple brainstorming for ideas. This is a fallacy. Brainstorming is just one small element of a much larger process. Innovation is NOT a tactic. It is a process, and if businesspeople follow the right steps, they can achieve innovation regularly—not just when someone slips on the soap in the shower and the next killer app just comes to them as they put ice on the bruise on their head.
Govern the Process

Everyone wants to achieve that “a-ha” moment, when they think they’ve struck upon an idea that could be big for their company. I’ve devised an actual process for getting to that moment, and also for recognizing when you’ve reached it.

Part of it centers on recognizing a need in the market place, but then combining all the elements and resources within your company to see if you have the ability to leverage existing research, development, contacts and distribution to fill that need. For instance, the iPod was an innovation that came about from Apple’s examination of the consumer’s desire to buy single songs instead of whole CDs, and the record industry’s inability to leverage the Internet as a viable delivery medium. Now, in reality, the process was far more complex than that simple sentence, but the essence of the process is there.
So to create sustainable innovation one needs an holistic approach and two key processes, in all it takes:
I nspire & Initiate
N o Risk, no Innovation
N ew Product Development Process
O wnership
V alue Creation
A coountability
T raining & Coaching
I dea Management
O bserve & Measure
N et Result, Net Reward

The key to making innovation a profit center is to be able to sustain it through the entire life cycle of a business. Innovation should not be a one-shot deal. Rather, business leaders must strive to implement rules or imperatives to govern sustainable innovation for as long as you’re in business.

About the Author
Robert Brands is the president and founder of, and the author, with Martin Kleinman, of Robert’s Rules of Innovation, published by John Wiley & Sons.

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