He was there in Apple’s early days, he’s penned 13 books on topics ranging from his days as a Macintosh evangelist to entrepreneurship, social media and more. He’s spoken to thousands of conference crowds and he’s advised and invested more startups than he can count.
Kawasaki’s latest book, Art of the Start 2.0, provides useful tools for anyone who wants to start, well … anything.
Thoughts on Cloud sat down with Kawasaki at the IBM Cloud Innovation Forum in Naples, Fla., where he spoke on the topic of innovation—from cloud computing to ice factories and how to make sure you’re staying ahead of the curve.
The title of your talk today is The Art of Innovation. Do you really see innovation as an art form?
As opposed to a science? For sure—it’s an art. Because if it were a science, let’s just say there would be more innovation in the world. I think it’s an art. I think hard work and luck has a lot to do with it. That said, you can definitely increase your luckiness and decrease your work by doing a few things. I hope to provide some guidance in those directions.
How has the art of innovation evolved over the last 10 years or so?
In the last 10 years what’s happened is cloud computing—that’s why we’re here, right? Before, you had to buy servers, you had to have co-location. Now, just call up IBM and all of a sudden you have infrastructure. There’s that, there’s also crowdfunding, which didn’t exist before. There’s also social media, which didn’t exist before. So now, innovation and entrepreneurship is a lot cheaper, and I think a lot more people will start companies. This doesn’t mean the products will get better. It just means more products. And I think that’s a good thing. It becomes more of a level playing field—more of a meritocracy. It’s not, “Did you happen to go to Dartmouth or Harvard with somebody’s son or daughter that is a private equity investor?” Now, you cobble something together—the so-called MVP (minimum viable product)—and off to market you go. I think it’s a much better situation.
How do you view the role of the cloud when it comes to innovation?
It is an enabler that makes things possible that could not have been done before without a lot of money and a lot of effort. The money part is literally buying iron—so you had to buy servers and you had to then put then in a room and that room had to be cooled with Freon or whatever gas is put in that room. Then, God forbid, you’re in a place where there’s an earthquake so you have to have at least two locations, one with the earthquake and one without. And of course it’s not just the iron, it’s the utilities and it’s the IT staff. That was a huge expense for startups, and that expense just doesn’t exist anymore for startups. You’re in the cloud. You don’t really know, you don’t really care. If your site spikes, they just roll in more servers. What a concept.
You’ve advised audiences in the past on the importance of having a mantra. What’s your mantra?
My mantra is, “Empower people.” So, two words that explain what I do. I try to empower people with my writing, my speaking, my investing and my advising. What you’re getting at is very different between a mantra and a mission statement. A mission statement is 30 or 40 words long. A mantra is two or three words long.
What’s one thing you’d tell our readers to do every day to help fuel innovation?
Every day, they should have a conceptual model of a two-by-two matrix, and in this two-by-two matrix the vertical axis is uniqueness and the horizontal axis is value. They want to be in that upper right hand corner because you always want to be in the upper right hand corner in a two-by-two matrix. And in that upper right hand corner you have a valuable product or service that is also unique. If you had a valuable product or service that is not unique you have to compete on price. And if you have a unique product that is not valuable, you’re just plain stupid. So, you need a unique product that’s valuable. If you’re an engineer, you should be creating that product, and if you’re a marketer, then you should be thinking about how you can convince the world that it’s unique and valuable.
One word you hear mentioned often with innovation is failure (and the “fail fast” concept). How do you view failure when it comes to innovation?
Listen, the concept of “failing fast” should not be misinterpreted to believe that you want to fail. You should avoid failure if possible. And it should not make light of failure. The concept here is that you go to market, you learn, and you revise. Arguably, Apple failed with Newton, but it succeeded with some other handhelds. It’s all about learning.
The opposite of success for an entrepreneur is not failure. The opposite of success is learning. So, you should always be learning.
So, there’s the concept [popularized by] Eric Ries of the MVP—the minimum viable product. I want to frame failure differently. I think you should add two more V’s to viable. Viable means that you can sell it for more than it costs to make, obviously. I would also add a V for “valuable”—that what you’re doing is important, and not just simply because you can make a buck on it. And then I would add another V called “validating,” which means you’re creating something where you can make a buck on it, that is contributing to the world, and validates the vision of your company. Because if it doesn’t do that, arguably why are you creating it? I think you should fail trying to do something viable, valuable and validating.
Interviewers love to ask you about what it was like working with Steve Jobs, and obviously he had a profound influence on your career—but who else have that you’ve worked with over the years has inspired and influenced you?
Steve Jobs is the profoundest, by far. I also worked in the jewelry business prior to working for Apple. This was a small, family-owned manufacturer in downtown Los Angeles. It was a very profound experience because I truly learned how to sell in that business. My conclusion toward the end of this career or mine is that there’s only really two functions in the world: You’re either making it or selling it. That’s the key. If you’re not an engineer and you can’t make it, you better be on the other side selling it. That’s a very valuable lesson I’ve learned. You’ve got to sell—you’re always selling.
Our audience is comprised mainly of IT professionals, from LOB to the exec level — any message you’d like me to pass on to them?
Probably the most valuable lesson I could pass on to them is a historical example. There used to be an ice harvesting business where people would cut blocks of ice—this was in the 1800s. Then there was an ice factory business where people froze water and delivered ice by truck. Then there was a refrigerator business. Three curves—ice one, two and three. None of the companies became ice factories who were ice harvesters and none of ice factories became refrigerator companies because most companies define themselves in terms of what they already do. That’s a huge danger. If you believe you cut blocks of frozen ice, then you don’t embrace ice factories. If you believe you freeze water centrally, you don’t embrace refrigerator, and then you die.
That’s why we’re not at the Smith Corona cloud computing conference, and that’s why we’re not at the Remington Rand cloud computing conference. We’re at the IBM Cloud Computing conference because some companies can jump to the next curve, or create the next curve. Other companies cannot. It’s very important to get to the next curve—that’s where the action is.
Listen to an expanded version of this interview here: