When Guy Kawasaki talks about business innovation, as he did recently at a University of Pennsylvania technology conference, he brings more than 25 years of major-league experience to the conversation — a background that the good-humored investor and entrepreneur calls “my checkered past.” After getting a psychology degree at Stanford and an MBA at UCLA, the Hawaii-born Kawasaki became the second software “evangelist” at Apple Computer, where his job from 1983 to 1987 was to convince people to create software for the Macintosh. Kawasaki fondly recalls his colleagues at Apple as visionary, driven and “arguably the greatest collection of egomaniacs in the history of California — though the record has subsequently been broken by Google.”
After leaving Apple, Kawasaki started his own companies in addition to becoming an author, consultant and venture capitalist. His books include The Macintosh Way, Rules for Revolutionaries, Selling the Dream and, most recently, Reality Check. Now 54, Kawasaki listens to pitches from start-ups regularly at his venture capital firm, Garage Technology Ventures. Its portfolio includes technologies ranging from logistics outsourcing to renewable energy, though he admits the firm hasn’t yet had its breakout hit — its own Apple or Google. In 2008, Kawasaki launched Alltop, a free Web site that uses RSS feeds to aggregate, by topic, the latest stories from thousands of web sites and blogs. His blog, “How to Change the World,” is among the most visited business strategy sites.
At Penn, he spoke at a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the Executive Master’s in Technology Management (EMTM) program, offered by Penn Engineering and co-sponsored by Wharton. His talk, titled “The Art of Innovation,” amounted to a 10-point manifesto on how to make something of value for customers. Along the way, he invoked funny and revealing examples that included everything from obsolete ice-delivery men to beach sandals that open beer bottles.
The following is a summary of Kawasaki’s “Ten Commandments”:
1. Make meaning, not money. “As venture capitalists,” Kawasaki said, “we deal with many companies, and often they come in [saying what] they think we want to hear: that they want to make money. It’s been my observation that most companies founded on this concept of making money pretty much fail. They attract the wrong kind of co-founders and early employees.” Rather, he says, entrepreneurs should focus on making their product or service mean something beyond the sum of its components — and the money may very well follow. He noted how Nike made its aerobic sneakers for women into more than just “two pieces of cotton, leather and rubber, manufactured under somewhat suspect conditions in the Far East.” With smart advertising about how women traditionally have been measured and judged, Nike “turned $2.50 of raw materials into something that stands for efficacy and power and liberation. They are making meaning with shoes. Great companies make meaning.” Certainly, Apple has done that with the Mac, iPhone and other devices.
2. Make a mantra, not a mission statement. Bland, generic company mission statements — about “delivering superior-quality products and services for our customers and communities through leadership innovation and partnerships” — serve no one but the consultant brought in to develop them, Kawasaki said. Instead, keep it short and define yourself by what you want to mean to consumers. Nike stands for “authentic athletic performance.” FedEx is about “peace of mind.” To get everyone internally and externally on the same page, explain why your organization exists and how it meets customers’ needs and desires.
3. Jump curves. Innovating is harder than just staying a little bit ahead of competitors on the same curve. “If you’re a daisy-wheel printer company, the goal is not to introduce Helvetica in another point size. The goal is to jump to laser printer,” he said. That’s easier in some businesses than others. Kawasaki noted how in the days before refrigeration, the ice industry consisted of ice harvesters in cold climates using horses, sleighs and saws to collect ice outdoors during winter months. Ten million pounds of ice were shipped in 1900 that way, he said. Then came “Ice 2.0” — factories that could freeze ice anywhere and an ice man who would deliver it to establishments and homes. Finally came “Ice 3.0”: home refrigerators.
Of course, none of the ice harvesters got into the ice factory business, and none of the factories got into the refrigerator business. That’s because “most organizations define themselves in terms of what they do,” he said, “instead of thinking ‘what benefit do we provide the customer?’ True innovation comes when you jump curves, not when you duke it out for 10% or 15% better.”
4. In product design, “roll the DICEE.” That’s an acronym. “D” is for deep, which to Kawasaki means thinking about features that go beyond the norm. One of his favorite “deep” ideas: Fanning Reef sandals, which have a bottle opener built into the sole. “I” is for intelligence, as seen in the design of Panasonic’s BF-104 flashlight, which uses batteries of three different sizes to accommodate the random mix of extra batteries many people have around the house. “C” is for complete — or being not just a product, but including support and service. The first “E” is for elegance: Beauty matters, according to Kawasaki. “Companies should have CTOs — chief taste officers,” he said. The second “E” is for emotive. “Great products generate strong emotions: Think Harley Davidson, Macintosh.”
5. Don’t worry, be “crappy.” This doesn’t mean ship a bad product, but “your innovation can have elements of crappiness to it,” Kawasaki said. Twitter has a litany of flaws, but it is changing people’s habits. The first Mac had plenty of room for improvement, but it made a statement about the future of personal computing, and it did not need to wait.
6. Polarize people. Try to be all things to all people and you often ship mediocrity, Kawasaki said. The boxy Toyota Scion xB looks ugly to some people but very cool to its devotees. TiVo became popular while maddening the advertising industry.
7. Let 100 flowers blossom. Borrowing from Chairman Mao, Kawasaki said you never know where the flowers will emerge, so let them grow. Innovations may attract unexpected and unintended customers. Think of Avon Products’ Skin-so-Soft cream, which became popular as a mosquito repellent. Rule one, he said, is “take the money. Rule two: Learn who’s buying your product, ask them why and give them more reasons. That’s a lot easier than asking people who aren’t interested ‘why not,’ and trying to change their minds.”
8. Churn, baby, churn. Always improve. Listen to customers for ideas. That’s difficult, Kawasaki said, because an innovator or entrepreneur must often ignore the advice of naysayers and “bozos” who say it can’t be done. Once it is done, and the product reaches the hands of customers, it’s time to start listening to their feedback. “Once you ship, then you flip,” Kawasaki said.
9. Niche yourself. Find your place, Kawasaki urged. He showed a simple X-Y graph, with the usual four quadrants mapping the variables “Uniqueness” and “Value.” A product or service does not need to be unique if it delivers value. That, he said, is how Dell won market share selling computers. In the lower left quadrant of his X-Y graph he placed many of the me-too dot.com companies of the late 1990s that were low value and uninspired. But in the upper-right quadrant were high value, unique products and services. They included the online movie-ticketing service Fandango and the Clear card that can speed passage through airport security. “The upper-right-hand corner is the holy grail of marketing,” he said. “It’s where meaning is made, it’s where money is made, it’s where history is made.”
10. Follow the 10-20-30 rule when pitching to venture capitalists. That means no more than 10 PowerPoint slides, a limit of 20 minutes for the pitch, and using a 30-point font size in the presentation (to keep it simple). The goal of such pitches isn’t to walk home with a check, he said, it’s to “not be eliminated” from consideration.
Kawasaki added one bonus point for innovators — and a mea culpa. “Don’t let the bozos get you down,” he said, trotting out some well-worn statements from technology naysayers, such as IBM chairman Thomas Watson’s assertion in 1943 that the total worldwide market for computers was “maybe five” (computer historians question the authenticity of the unsubstantiated quote), and Western Union’s inability to see a use for the telephone. These companies were trapped by thinking about what they already did, rather than what could be done next. Ignore them, Kawasaki said. Nevertheless, he admitted he was a “bozo” himself once. In the mid-1990s, he was offered a chance to interview for the CEO position at Yahoo. He declined. He saw the web as just another thing to do with a computer modem, and a web index as having limited value. “By my calculation, this decision cost me $2 billion.”