Category Archives: Innovation

Apple’s Magic Is In The Turn, Not The Prestige

From TechCrunch:

The Prestige 11

The opening dialogue of Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige:

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course…it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.

This is what was on my mind following today’s Apple event. It’s essentially the story of the iPhone.

Apple took something ordinary, a phone, did some extraordinary things to it, and then made it re-appear in grandiose fashion. It’s a great trick. It’s so good, in fact, that I think it’s fair to call it true magic.

The problem, if you want to call it that, is that Apple has now been doing this trick since 2007. Granted, they have other solid tricks too (they are far from the one-trick-pony claims that several of their competitors face). But the iPhone is the best trick in their bag. And in the last few years, some people have gotten sick of seeing it.

But it’s important to remember that just because you’ve seen a show before, it doesn’t actually make it any less magical. It’s a perception issue.

Yes, that’s also Apple’s problem — if they wish to entertain. But the reality is that the entertainment value of these events is just icing on the cake. It also probably doesn’t help the current Apple regime that Steve Jobs was especially good at pulling off “The Prestige” part. But the true core of the company with regard to the iPhone has always been about “The Turn.” And I think that was more clear than ever today.

Look at the main video being displayed on Apple’s homepage. It’s several Apple executives talking about just what went into pulling off turning the ordinary smartphone into something extraordinary. Yes, again.

To some, this repetition is now boring. But I think Apple looks at it the opposite way: they’re perfecting their trick.

Look at the mobile landscape right now. There are two companies that are making any money in smartphones: Apple and Samsung. Or, put another way: Apple and the company Apple just won a billion dollar-plus judgement against for copying their smartphone designs. So while some may find Apple’s trick old hat now, no one else has figured out how to pull it off — except for the company doing a mediocre copy of the trick. I’d argue it’s because everyone is focusing on The Pledge and The Prestige, but Apple is the only one focusing on The Turn.

They’re the only ones photographing their assembly process with 29 megapixel cameras to ensure that a machine picks the exact inlet from 725 unique cuts. They’re the only ones who spend three years working on earphones. They’re the only ones who would go out of their way to try to re-design a device to look and act similar even though the bulk of it has largely changed.

That’s the thing — when people say they’re disappointed about the new iPhone, what they’re really saying is that they’re disappointed it doesn’t look that much different from previous version(s). But again, not only is that true, Apple went out of their way to make sure that was the case. Just listen to Jony Ive in the very beginning of the video:

When you think about your iPhone, it’s probably the object that you use most in your life. It’s the product that you have with you all the time. With this unique relationship that people have with their iPhone, we take changing it really seriously. We don’t just want to make a new phone. We want to make a much better phone.

Apple is not and will not change things just for the sake of change. And while some may now be clamoring for this change, the paradox is that if Apple did make some big changes, many of the same people would bitch and moan about them. Apple is smart enough to know that in this case, most people don’t really want change, they just think that they do because that’s the easiest way to perceive value: visual newness.

Apple’s focus remains on The Turn, the process by which they make the ordinary extraordinary. But even with a masterful Prestige, it’s hard to convey that commitment. That is, until you walk into an Apple Store and pick up the product.

While it lacks the pomp and circumstance of a Prestige on stage at some big event, this interaction is much more intimate, and as such, much more powerful. You may not perceive it directly, but the care and craft of The Turn percolates through your hands and eyes. Within minutes or even seconds, you just know this is something different. Something far beyond what others are doing with their false magic. You want this. You need this.

That’s why Apple is now the most valuable company in the world. And that’s why you will buy an iPhone 5. And an iPhone 6. And beyond. You’re upset about The Prestige, or the lack thereof. But it’s all about The Turn.

The Six Innovation Questions

 

Creativity and innovation, while not the same thing, both are iterative activities. They both benefit from answering these six questions. – The Six Innovation Questions, DigitalSpark

Social Commerce, Pinterest And The Future Of Fashion Retail

From TechCrunch

Screen Shot 2012-06-15 at 10.37.22 PM

Editor’s note: Leo Chen is a former product manager at Amazon and is currently the co-founder of Monogram, an iPad fashion discovery and shopping app funded by 500 Startups. You can find Leo on Twitter @leoalmighty.

Death of brick-and-mortar retail

Andrew Chen recently recommended a video to me, which inspired this post. It’s a keynote by Ron Johnson, the CEO of JC Penney and the man behind Apple’s retail revolution. In the video, Johnson spoke about the history of the department store and why JC Penney has fallen behind.

It wasn’t very long ago that stores like JC Penney, Nordstrom, and Gap were the pinnacles of fashion retail. These retailers provided better products at unbeatable prices. Retail buyers acted as personal curators for customers and the in-store experience was exceptional.

Then came e-commerce. Predictable products like books, CDs, and electronics drove the first wave of e-commerce for e-tailers like Amazon. But fashion lagged behind. Consumers want a tactile, in-person experience when it comes to garments. They need to touch and try it on. Even as e-tailers offered lower prices, consumers preferred to shop in stores.

That all began to change when Zappos came along with free shipping and returns; customers are encouraged to order multiple sizes and colors, try on the items in the comfort of our homes and return what we don’t want. For free. Coupled with better product visualizations (large images, multi-angle views – see Warby Parker and MyHabit), consumers are increasingly turning to the web for their fashion needs.

‘Apparel and accessories’ is projected to be the leading category in e-commerce in the US over the next 5 years.

But soon, online retailers will also become less relevant

The bar for e-commerce is rising every day: great visuals and free shipping are fast becoming commoditized. If product, price and service are the same, consumers will grow indifferent towards the seller.

Retailers still drive marketing, supply chain and distribution for designers and brands, but how long before brands figure this out themselves? Social curation and discovery tools like Pinterest and Fancy are leveling the playing field for retail marketing; Amazon is disrupting supply chain and fulfillment (more on this next).

So why are we still shopping at a handful of our so-called “favorite stores”? Because the internet has a noise and discovery problem. I believe that’s where the next wave of fashion tech innovation will take us.

Pinterest

Pinterest has found an optimal balance between aspirational browsing and shopping. Social shopping is more about discovery, conversations and relationship building, something that’s apparent in the way Pinterest users interact.

As Pinterest evolves, they will focus more on monetization and driving direct commerce. They have already experimented with affiliate links and the Rakuten investment is a strong hint at direct commerce. Here’s what I predict Pinterest might do next (purely speculative, of course):

  • Branded pages for brands, stores and boutiques
    • There’s already evidence that Pinterest users spend more money than Facebook users.
    • Pinterest could compete directly with Facebook pages by offering brands a better way to showcase products with access to a higher quality audience.
  • Integrated/Universal checkout
    • If users are already discovering products through Pinterest but going off to merchant sites to transact, Pinterest should own that transaction and offer a consistent user experience.
    • For smaller retailers and boutiques, Pinterest could integrate, acquire or build their own version of Shopify and let merchants sell directly on the Pinterest platform.
    • For large retailers and brands, Pinterest will have to form partnerships and integrate with retailer payment systems: essentially selling products on Pinterest, and having the retailer drop ship inventory. Retailers may resist this initially because Pinterest will effectively render the merchant less relevant.
    • Brands will be more inclined to work with Pinterest because they see it as an effective distribution channel. Brands can ultimately skip the retailer if they can get distribution through Pinterest. Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) solves the logistics challenges — brands can simply ship inventory to an Amazon warehouse and have Amazon handle fulfillment. Consumers get the added benefit of Amazon Prime.
  • Create an e-commerce channel
    • To mitigate the risk of disrupting (and irritating) current user, Pinterest will likely create a separate shopping channel if they decide to focus on commerce (e.g.shop.pinterest.com).
    • This shopping channel will be product and commerce focused. You won’t find the cute puppies and fortune cookie quotes here, but you can bet Pinterest will leverage all your data for targeting.

Challenges Pinterest will face

As Pinterest scales, the biggest challenge will be surfacing signal buried in noise. It’s the Facebook Newsfeed problem, but much more difficult because of its focus on fashion and other tastemaker products.

  • Facebook is about people, so to make my newsfeed relevant it has to factor in the quality of my relationships. Who am I closer friends with, who is my family, which fan pages do I interact with most, etc. This is easy because we give Facebook that information every time we look at a friend’s photos, like a status update or comment on a post. Facebook doesn’t care what content we interacted with; it only needs to know who produced that content.
  • Fashion and other tastemaker products (e.g. home decor) are highly subjective, which means that I don’t necessarily like the same clothes or sofas as my closest friends. If I like a picture of a cute puppy my friend pinned, doesn’t mean I share his taste in fashion. Aside from existing Pinterest categories, they will have to find ways to add deeper tags on the products pinned (e.g. brand, color, style, season, fabric, patterns, etc…) to accurately target.

What’s next in fashion tech?

To date, most fashion tech companies are more commerce than tech. If you look at Gilt and Fab, they’re primarily commerce companies built on fairly standard e-commerce backends with some slight twists. It’s hard to drive disruptive innovation when your KPI is revenue.

In order to fundamentally change the way people shop, we will need teams with fashion experts, product visionaries, deep technical horsepower and growth hackers. It’s a hard combination to find, especially when most hackers in the valley shlep around in jeans and t-shirts — they’re not their own target user.

What will online fashion shopping be like in the future? I believe today’s multi-browser-tab search and filter behavior will feel as ancient as printed maps and yellow pages are today.

When I have a specific purchase in mind:

  • I picture myself telling Siri that I’m looking for some sneakers as I’m driving home from work.
  • When I get home, sink into my couch with my iPad or turn on my Apple TV, I’m shown pages of sneakers specifically curated for me, in my size.
  • I choose a few that I like, tap buy, and the shoes show up the next morning on my doorstep.

When I’m in the mood to browse:

  • I’m shown the latest collections and recommendations from my favorite designers, fashion bloggers and influencers (without having to search and filter on multiple websites).
  • Upcoming designers are recommended to me based on my style and preferences. Some of these recommendations are computer generated, some are handpicked by designers or personal stylists.
  • I won’t just be browsing product photos as I do on nordstrom.com today, it will be an interactive experience with inspiring looks, runway videos and beautiful images. Like Tom Cruise’s command center in Minority Report, except I am surrounded by Prada, Varvatos & Converse.
  • I can’t tell the difference between product and advertisement because everything can be purchased with a tap or a drag.
  • If I order by 11am, products will be at my doorstep by 6pm same day (Amazon already does this in China).

Clay Christensen on Steve Jobs – the trouble with venture capital

Reposted from GIGAOM, October 10, 2011.

Steve Jobs and the company he co-founded just might be one of the few companies to look the innovator’s dilemma right in the eye and stare it into submission. Jobs’ Apple decided that it was better to cannibalize itself rather than have others do it. And so, the briskly selling iPod was replaced by the iPhone, and the iPad became the new low-end computer. When I asked Professor Christensen what made Jobs special, he said, “Jobs never said he understood the customer, but instead he tried to learn what they are trying to do, and that was his genius.”

Why? Because that helps focus on what matters the most: helping your customers get the job done. The professor pointed out that most people tend to focus on the wrong things, especially in the fast changing world of technology. Christensen argued that when companies make products that help make everyday stuff easier and get the job of life (or work) done, in the end customers don’t need any persuasion. That is precisely why a company like Apple can find buyers for its products so much more easily. Christensen pointed out the fundamental insight Steve Jobs had was that he focused on the “job.”

“Jobs are very stable in a sense and don’t change very much,” he said. For example, Julius Caesar used a chariot to get messages across from one city to another. Fed-Ex uses planes and trucks, he said. The job of delivering the packages hasn’t changed; just how it is done has changed.

Companies that realize this are fine, and will always find a way into the future. Apple understood that people would buy music, just not from a record store. Amazon is another company that has figured out that people love buying books, though it might not be from a bookstore, or even in a paper form. That is one of the reasons it introduced Kindle.

Innovation troubles

I asked the famous academic what he thought of the increasing rhetoric around a decreasing emphasis on fundamental innovation and long term thinking in our society. He said that the problem isn’t with a lack of teaching or learning; instead it is a problem with finance.

Financial institutions and educators have propagated a way of thinking that is poison for innovation, Christensen said. And that thinking is around internal rate of return or IRR. As a result, investors are looking to put money to work fast and take it out as quickly as possible. This behavior is not only prevalent inside companies but also inside the venture business, he said. Christensen said that typically it takes about seven years or so to get a company to the finish line and get a good return on investment. Now compare that with an incremental product (or improvement) that you can flip quickly – that gives a big boost to the IRR.

As a result, venture capitalists are focused on short-term innovations and that is just nuts, he added. “I keep saying, don’t be distracted by the siren song of synthetic message of IRR,” he said. “It is dollars and not IRR percentage that matters.”

Professor Christenen was critical of the migratory capital that sloshes from one sector to another or one country to another – moving in and out after locking in short-term gains. He thought the government should consider a new kind of tax structure that encourages longterm investments and stability. For instance, no capital gains taxes for investments that last as long as eight years. “Then you will find people like Steve Jobs and the vibrancy of innovation will return.”

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Bjarke Ingels: 3 warp-speed architecture tales


Bjarke Ingels: 3 warp-speed architecture tales. Danish architect Bjarke Ingels rockets through photo/video-mingled stories of his eco-flashy designs. His buildings not only look like nature — they act like nature: blocking the wind, collecting solar energy — and creating stunning views.

The World Is Created by People No Smarter Than You

“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” – Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc.

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Apple Steve Jobs The Crazy Ones – NEVER BEFORE AIRED 1997

“Think Different” espoused the very best of human nature, of people who had
another viewpoint that enabled them to be truly great, not just for themselves
but for humanity. The campaign defined the Apple brand for years.
Embedded here is the original “Think Different” commercial — not the one that
aired on television narrated by Richard Dreyfus but by Apple cofounder Steve
Jobs himself. I prefer Jobs’ version. Listen to the passion in his voice. The
visionaries depicted mean something more than their use in a marketing campaign.

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Everything Is a Remix Part 3

Reposted from Everything Is a Remix.

The act of creation is surrounded by a fog of myths. Myths that creativity comes via inspiration. That original creations break the mold, that they’re the products of geniuses, and appear as quickly as electricity can heat a filament. But creativity isn’t magic: it happens by applying ordinary tools of thought to existing materials.

And the soil from which we grow our creations is something we scorn and misunderstand, even though it gives us so much… and that’s copying. Put simply, copying is how we learn. We can’t introduce anything new until we’re fluent in the language of our domain, and we do that through emulation.

For instance, all artists spend their formative years producing derivative work.

Bob Dylan’s first album contained eleven cover songs.

Richard Pryor began his stand-up career doing a not-very-good imitation of Bill Cosby.