Posted by kari.petroschmidt
Malcolm Gladwell wrote an interesting piece in the New Yorker on Steve Jobs. In the article he calls him a “tweaker”, explaining that Steve was the sort of person who excelled at refining the great inventions of his time. Is tweaking innovation? Was Steve an innovator?
Often people use the word invention and mean innovation. I like the definition of Everett Rogers (The Diffusion of Innovations, 5th ed – Kindle electronic version). He says innovation could be ideas, practices or physical objects perceived as new. So it does not have to be new at all. Steve Jobs did not invent the computer mouse, or graphical user interfaces, or the Unix operating system, or the smart phone. He saw the potential of these things and packaged them in a different way that allowed the concepts and solutions to appear fresh and desirable.
Tablet computers have been around before the iPad, but they resembled laptops in too many ways. Smart phones looked just like the dumb phones before them in too many ways before the iPhone came onto the scene. These days smartphones that look like the Samsung Galaxy are not seen as innovative or new, despite having bigger screens or more processing power than an iPhone.
Bill Gates with the Microsoft Tablet in 2003
Rogers also talks about the readiness of people to adopt new things. Many inventions sit on the shelf for many years and make no progress towards broad utility. Sometimes they are just not perceived as friendly in their current guise. They are not adopted because there is no real persuasive reason to do so.
For a service or a product to be innovative, it must be perceived to be new, it must be cast in a context that is persuasive to its use and people must adopt a positive attitude towards it. In short, they must like what they see and experience when they come into contact with the new service or product. Even if the product is redesigned and repackaged it may still fail as an innovation, because people find no reason to like or use it.
You may have a great idea, or you may discover that something could be far more useful if it is packaged differently. Without design that will make it desirable, the masses will not adopt it. It will not be an innovation, and another tweaker may come along and get it right. I think Steve Jobs was an innovator of note. You may not like what the guy did or how he did it, but he succeeded in bringing several inventions into the mainstream through the right tweaks at the right time. And he made a bundle of cash doing it.