I have been thinking about Innovation and how to create market disruption a lot lately, and it led me to think about what has made Apple innovation so disruptive. Now the most valuable brand on the planet, it's easy to think of them as a computing company, or a mobile phone company, or as they describe themselves as a hardware company...But are they really any of those things?
The one thing Apple does time and time again is to break convention, bringing to market one after another aesthetically exciting, simple and intuitive gadgets. It's tempting to think that what they do is 'simplicity'. Their stuff is simple (mostly) but that's not what they do. The question is: what is the convention they that systematically break, and why? I think we underestimate the biggest cultural context they tap into time and time again, and that is play.
I think of Apple as a toy company.
It sounds silly but what they did was take the 'serious' work-related PC and give it a colourful twist with the iMac; then they invented the iPOD, making listening to music not only personal but playful - randomness and shuffling bring a sense of playfulness to an otherwise dull commute. And then, the iPhone. They took a 'serious' communications tool and turned it into a TOY. You can flip it around, you can bump it, you can create your own app world on it, and most of all play games on it (little wonder Angry Birds is still the most successful app to date).
They broke the conventions of Technology by thinking about the phone as a toy.
How many people have seen kids pick up the iPhone and intuitively know how to use it? How many times have we shown each other something silly to play with an app? How many times have we complained that we can't make a call??? It doesn't matter because its 'toy-ness' outweighs its 'phone-ness'.
With hindsight of course, it makes absolute sense that we now see Apple as a toy manufacturer. As we all enter the Data era, and access information as much as we make communication, we can see that the Asian markets were far ahead of us. They built out their mobile brands on the basis of a culture that relies on data; funnily enough that's the same culture that prizes play and gaming as a high priority. In Asia, Technology = Data + Play. ie Toys. Consciously or not, Apple saw this too, and invented a whole new culture of technology usage for us in the West.
So, that's the lesson. "Break the technological taboos by looking for cultural clues".
Any technology, be it washing up liquid, food, or computing can be seen in a new light if we are only willing to break the conventions and challenge the taboos. Embed this thinking into the culture of a company and who knows how successful your next innovation will be!