The Critical Path #5: HP's Innovation Antibodies – 5by5

Horace and Ryan discuss HP’s departure from the PC business, the end of the TouchPad, buying your way into innovation and what it takes to compete and survive in the Post PC era.

via The Critical Path #5: HP’s Innovation Antibodies – 5by5.

This is a good one.

  • Here are some notes that I took from the episode. If anyone has anything to add, please do:

    * When a market has become commoditized, the conversation should be where the Value Proposition is shifting.
    * A leader's role is to conform to the organization, not the other way around?
    * For your industry, what is the primary driver of innovation? For computers it has always started with a new input method leading to new platform, to new distribution, to new business model, to new ecosystem.
    * Approach problems with the mindset of what is the best way to solve this problem, not with what tools you have to solve this problem.

  • @horace. Although I do agree that much of Apple's philosophy can be learned, I don't know if a lot of their best ideas can be turned into "best practices". There's a certain ambiguity to the design-centered philosophy. You don't always know what you will get from the process. You have to really trust the model to stomach the uncertainty. Just look at how market has hammered HP because of the uncertainty surrounding their decision to off-load their PC/webOS division.

    • asymco

      This goes back to the "plan for what cannot be planned." Part of the codification or standardization of best practice is to "roll the dice" or "trust your instincts" or "do the right thing". I don't see why we can't have business algorithms that include fuzzy logic. The idea of deliberate planning itself has to be wiped from the assumptions list.

      • Nate

        I like to think of it as acknowledging and embracing the inherent ambiguity of traditional business philosophies. Since there (almost) inevitably will be more disruptions in the future, deliberate planning that does not (can not) take this into account is just as ambiguous as a design-centered philosophy, only more fragile, since the ambiguity is hidden.

      • JamesW

        I do agree with David on this.

        Let's take the example of Microsoft's Tablet PC. This was championed by Bill Gates himself but it still failed. Why? Because they simply didn't imagine it right. They thought of it as an extension of the PC with a keyboard and stylus. Steve would have known such a thing would never work. Good judgement is very hard to teach.

      • @horace

        As far as user-center design philosophies are concerned, I think Mike Monteiro from the Let's Make Mistakes podcast on 5by5 would have a more valuable opinion on this subject.

        User-centered philosophy has been around for a long time and a lot of the processes have been published and talked about by IDEO. I've listed a bunch of links for people who are interested in learning more. For those who don't know much about IDEO, they designed the first Apple mouse and in my opinion, had a lot of influence in Steve Jobs beliefs on design.

        IDEO on Dateline

        IDEO's Human Centered Design toolkit

        IDEO Co-founder David Kelley at TED

  • When bringing ideas from lab to market Apple has something that HP, Nokia and the likes do not: a Chief Productization Officer or Chief Shipping Officer. It happens to be that same as their CEO, but I am not sure if it has to be.

    • asymco

      The role of CEO varies greatly from company to company or even from one CEO to another. The main point however is that there has to be an undisputed authority who can defend innovation and be in a position to do so for a long gestative period.

  • Steve Jobs says that computers will soon become like trucks, we don't all need one but what if he is wrong and we all want to become truck drivers?

    • asymco

      I've never been comfortable with that analogy. The reason being that I don't think trucks were the predominant motor vehicle at its inception. In fact, consumer vehicles were not at all uncommon. The first cars were for the rich only however especially in Europe.

      The big breakthrough was the Model T which was partly successful because it was marketed to farmers as not only a vehicle but also to be used as a source of power (using the engine to power various tools). But the Model T owes its success to low price.

      The analogy we're looking for is that PCs are utilitarian and productivity oriented whereas computing is shifting to leisure and conformance to lifestyles. In that respect the car is a good analogy but maybe not truck vs. car but the evolution of cars over time in general.

      • KenC

        Yes, the analogy isn't perfect, but I think we all get what he means.

    • Analogies and metaphors have their tradeoffs too. Their advantage is that they're highly leveraged and can communicate so much with little effort, and few words. Their disadvantage is that they don't often exactly match up. It's important for listeners to remember this and look for the "spirit" of the analogy or metaphor being used and try not to be too critical of where the analogy breaks down.

      Steve Jobs was trying to draw a contrast between something that's powerful and versatile but with its own downsides (truck) vs. mobile devices that are more personal, immediate, and convenient but less powerful.

      Tradeoffs with everything… Use your truck when you have something big to move, but take the Moped to the coffee shop three blocks away. Analogies and metaphors – try to find the spirit of what is meant 'cuz they rarely match up perfectly.

      • asymco

        Indeed. I think what you're trying to capture here is the phrase "poetic license." If people agree that someone is a poet then they should also agree to give him license.

    • David

      In the spirit of the analogy, most people don't own trucks. Most people don't want to know that much about computers.

  • L.K.

    There is no such thing as a "Post-PC" world. Just like the video star didn't kill the radio star. They coexist!

    • asymco

      As I've written many times before, Post-PC does not mean End-PC any more than the end of the stone age does not mean we no longer use stones. The defensiveness with which people react to this phrase however, is telling.

      • L.K.

        I say that because everywhere you go, you hear these "great" analysis about the decline in PCs sales because people are opting to buy tablets and smart phones over PCs. They have "some" overlapping features, but are in essence totally different products. That's like saying shoe sales are declining because people are opting to buy jackets instead.

      • asymco

        Substitutions happen when the products are hired for similar jobs that need to be done. When a buyer is willing to tolerate lesser performance in exchange for more convenience or conformance to their lifestyle the opportunity exists for a new product category.

        A better analogy would be the move from dedicated cameras to cameras in mobile phones. It was argued for years that the quality of a phone camera would never match that of a dedicated camera and indeed both have been improving so the dedicated camera is still ahead. But the camera phone is getting good enough to the point where many will stop buying new cameras.

        You need to look at consumption. By far the most popular camera on Flickr is now the iPhone. What is a camera company to do? Why, make even better cameras, of course!

    • You're right, but I think you're assuming Post-PC is meant to indicate the end of something. It's more meant point to a "border" and a transition point where the balance between this and that changes. Without the "post-PC" term you'd have to use a lot more words. It a term of convenience, like all the zillion other terms and acronyms we use. This is why whenever bloggers, writers and commenters use words like "kill, killer, win, lose, closed, open," etc, they get immediately dinged a few points in my regard for their communication skills.

  • EWPellegrino

    The renaissance man analogy is interesting but I think it needs unpacking. For starters the idea that we're all renaissance men now depends on which man you take as your model of the renaissance man. If we take somebody like Francis Bacon, then perhaps, certainly the scientific method has been widely disseminated and further improved since his day.

    But if one took as one's model Da Vinci then things look bleaker. Da Vinci's combination of artistic skills and engineering talents were not something that proved replicable, and that combination of talents is powerful because a single person with both abilities works differently than a small team where both talents are present in different individuals.

    Jobs, like both Bacon and Da Vinci has vast hinterland, and that isn't something that is common in society today, in that sense modern renaissance men are as rare as ever, but more than that Jobs seems a Da Vincian figure. He combines management skills with a strong aesthetic sense and significant technical ability. It's rare to find somebody so high up the ladder with such an array of talents and interests. The result is that Apple products have incredible attention to aesthetics, even down to the aesthetics of the packaging and it carries across into the marketing and the advertising.

    Does Apple have processes and features that are replicable? Perhaps though we've seen people like Jon Rubinstein who were immersed in Apple attempt to replicate it and fail. If you want to understand Apple better, I don't think you could do better than to examine Palm under Rubinstein.

    • asymco

      I would not suggest that working at Apple makes you more "enlightened" (in the innovation sense) than average. Therefore Apple transplants don't have particularly good records once they leave. To stretch the analogy further one could examine why Renaissance men thrived in Italy and, at least initially, nowhere else. It's a mix of context and frame of mind.

      • EWPellegrino

        But surely if the qualities that make Steve Jobs a great CEO or that make Apple a great innovator were replicable then working there would indeed make you more 'enlightened', in the way that studying in a science department inculcates the scientific method without (frequently) ever actually formally teaching it.

        As Mark says in his comment below, Apple is bigger than Steve, so perhaps the problem is that when people like Rubinstein try to replicate it they are unable to reproduce the entire gestalt – because they never saw the whole picture. But I fear that the real issue is that the 'creative company' cannot be replicated, because it's too organic and fragile.

      • KenC

        As you note, success requires a mix of content and frame of mind. Apple transplants like Rubinstein would seem to have the ingredients for success, having been on Steve's Exec Team from his time at NeXT and Apple, but he didn't have all of the ingredients, like budget, time, and a ripe competitive landscape. Further, he was competing against the Master!

    • I agree, but we have to be careful of our filter bubbles. There are tons of CEOs out there who are amazing, and have accomplishments that may not be immediately recognizable to the public. The Bloomberg series "Game Changers" and CNBC's "Titans" profile people who are quite remarkable, but still quite visible, yet there are thousands of the "invisibles" too. Jack Welch may have done a lot for General Electric but what amazing GE inventions are visible and obvious like the iPhone and iPad? (I think about their jet engines when I'm flying and the MRI machine when at the doctor, though. 🙂

      Furthermore, "Apple" is a construction. It's a multi-decade accumulation of the engrams of Steve Jobs and all the other people that have worked there – Jonny Ive, Tim Cook, even Steve Wozniak, etc. Apple is smart about recording its engrams and M.O. in their internal Apple University so that its DNA is transferred to its progeny, and will live on post-Steve. "Apple" also manages the myriad of accumulated strategies and intangibles that go into Apple being successful and a formidable company. Thus we have to take care not to apply all of that to one man.

      Again, "renaissance man" is an analogy and we need to accept analogies on their spirit and intent, and not so much on their accuracy, truth and universal applicability. I know you know this, but I'm trying to balance out a reference to something that's in itself quite complex.

  • Michael C

    The movie you were trying to think of, perhaps, is Minority Report. (The man waving his arms in the air as a UI.)

    I loved the "corporate antibody" metaphor and your elucidation of it.

    • asymco

      Yes, that's the one. My repertoire of movie metaphors is sadly very limited.

  • Les S

    A peek behind the new Renaissance man's curtain:

    • Les S

      Here's a quote from the article: “Both founders and entrepreneurial employees prefer to build something from the ground up rather than join an existing company. Like jazz musicians or improv actors, they prefer to operate in a chaotic environment with multiple unknowns. They sense the general direction they’re headed in, OK with uncertainty and surprises, using the tools at hand, along with their instinct to achieve their vision. These types of people are rare, unique and crazy. They’re artists.”

      • And they generally drive others crazy.

        I worked with someone who was a visionary entrepreneur, and he had a habit of changing directions rapidly. I don't think he ever saw them as significant shifts, because his vision was much broader than the individual project at any given moment, but it certainly kept everyone else hopping and often frustrated.

      • I had a boss that had a syndrome that some of us employees called "diarrhea of ideas". We constantly missed deadlines because of lack of focus and constant changes. The man has energy and drive, so his company is doing OK, but if he could have learned focus or listened to those who have focus, I'm sure he'd be a much bigger success. Some of his ideas *were* good ones. However, he was just as likely to cancel a good idea when he had a "less good idea" the next day.

        My other complaint is that he was addicted to management books. He would bombard us with slogans ("work smarter, not harder", as we put in 12 hour days and weekends to fight against slipped deadlines) and constant and interminable meetings to outline the "new strategy" or "build consensus".

        One note about my criticism: This ex-boss has been more successful than I have ever been, despite his shortcomings. Outside of his crazy making management style he was a good guy, and he did try to take care of us employees in his own way.

        Much of his success was seeing that a new market was developing and being ready for it as it arrived. The initial vision was good, and to the degree that the company stayed focused on that, it has succeeded.

  • Navalopera

    Great post. You described very well how an innovative product needs to be protected by top management so as to not be killed off within a big established company. A good example: the original IBM PC – an independent unit within the company was created to develop it, and did so very quickly and in their own way (including getting the OS from Bill Gates). The phrase at the time was "this is how you get an elephant to dance."

  • OpenMind

    I would think what makes Apple different from other companies is Apple wants to make products that people need and want. If the said product conflicts with its internal business model, business model yields, not product. In contrast, other companies product yields to current business model, which is the tendency of status quo. Once you have products that people wants and you deliver them, profit comes naturally. But today's managers are trained to look for profits first regardless whether people want their product. If customers don't want, managers will use rebate, BOGO, ads, etc to lure people in, not think about change their products because it is harder.

  • mark212

    really excellent and thought-provoking show, thanks Horace. I listened to it with my 7 month old daughter and she was unusually attentive throughout. High praise indeed!

    Beautiful analogy of corporate "anti-bodies" sniffing out and killing aberrant ideas and practices. It takes some potent medicine (i.e. way high up in leadership) to continually suppress this and allow the invaders to replicate to the point where it's useful and profitable. And it's a useful metaphor, too, in the sense that no healthy corporation can be without an immune system. That focus on costs, product, engineering, mission, etc. is the reason for success in the first place, but every healthy biological system grows and mutates over time.

    Your philosopher's instinct is well grounded in facts and data, so please give us more of the Big Picture and the Grand Metaphor.

  • Joe_Winfield_IL

    Antibodies!  What a perfect metaphor for the broken incentive systems developed by large corporations.  I've been disillusioned by how poorly most companies incentivize employees, focusing on narrow objectives that often don't fit into a broad strategy.  While at a tactical level this makes sense, most companies carry the same reward structure all the way up the ladder.  Team leaders and entry level managers can have their pay tied to specific projects within their control.  Division heads need to worry about their own business, but should always be working in service to the whole company.  Thanks for distilling this into a concise, cogent metaphor – it'll take my ruminations much more palatable to my poor friends who are stuck listening to my (redundant) whining about the ways of the business world.

  • Gromit1704

    Great show. I agree with the rest, the Corporate anti-bodies attacking innovation was an highlight. We have all encounted them (not just in corporations, but in any large organisation). I now have a name for them (well one that isn't obscene), so thank you for that.

  • Bruce

    re: Corporate antibodies: I was at a trade show with a question about Microsoft Office. I had a question about performance of a certain feature. I was hoping for an improvement in the newly announced version of Office. Microsoft had a booth dedicated to the new version. After some polite but persistant asking around, I was eventually referred to someone who had the answer. They said that this feature would never be enhanced because another division within Microsoft would complain. If this feature got better in Office, it might mean less sales in the other division. Corporate antibodies at work.

    I could be much more specific about this, but I don't want to get the person who gave me a straight answer in trouble. It was a very nice thing for them to do. I ended up recommending a non-Microsoft product to fill the performance gap in Office, and the client bought it.

  • Horace:

    I am so impressed by the clarity of your thinking and your ability to make very real, very different thinking via excellent metaphors.

    The corporate antibodies is just very clear, and we have all witnessed that behavior.

  • watersb

    Excellent episode! And I disagree with your take on our human society today as a rational place. The United States is perhaps less rational a society than most of Western Europe.

    I appreciate the fallacy of conflating "irrationality" with "the role of religion in daily life", but data from the Bertelsmann Foundation is intriguing.

    I was born in the United States, have lived all my life here. And you know, we are just completely nuts. Bonkers. Mad. And yet we have some of the finest universities and innovative companies in the world.

    • Horace Dediu

      Madness is an integral component of innovation. I hope I did not suggest otherwise.

    • Horace Dediu

      Rationality was meant to be in contrast to superstition and mythology not asymmetry.

      • watersb

        Hmm. You could do a whole show (an entire season) on these modes of behavior.

        Advertising that is meant to elicit emotional states so as to lead you to purchasing a particular product. The role of hucksterism in modern political discourse. Why Steve Jobs' style of presentation is so effective. Is Apple a "tech company"? Is Pixar? How is it that they can create such powerful, emotional stories out of the effort of lots of computer programmers?

        What's the difference between modern science (which tells us that quarks have flavors, and that the universe is expanding) and Newtonian alchemy (light is a flow in the aether, lead can be transmuted into gold).. ?

        Most people on the street would claim that you must accept modern "science" on faith. because we often fail to teach kids how to think scientifically, to act and live like scientists, and instead focus on memorizing the facts and figures that describe our world. We know why this happens — in the past 10 years, our public education system has been hit by another wave of standardized testing. It's a public-policy response to broader economic contraction. And so we've replaced old superstition with a new mythos…

        Ah, this pushes personal buttons for me. Sorry to grab your megaphone and start preaching. I would *love* to hear your take on this. Thanks very much for all your great posts and talks.

      • EWPellegrino

        Absolutely Apple is a tech company, but technology can be beautiful – even without Apple levels of design, and beauty always evokes emotion.

        Elegance is beautiful as any mathematician or theoretical physicist will tell you, and doing a task cleanly with no extraneous graphical elements or unnecessary code is elegant – so in fact any good tech firm will produce positive emotional reactions to their products simply by the nature of that functionalism.

      • watersb

        Apple is a tech company. Walt Disney's company is not considered a tech company. Steve Jobs is the largest shareholder of each company.

      • EWPellegrino

        Pixar started out as a tech company, their picture business grew out of their (failed) tech business in a similar way to the fact that ILM grew out of Lucasfilm – though obviously in reverse.

        Apple is a tech company, Disney is not, what is your point?

      • watersb

        Consider the distinction drawn between characterizing Apple as 'tech' and Disney as 'not-tech' — I believe that Walt Disney started his company as a basically a tech company. Telling stories with new animation methods, then later telling stories with advanced cybernetics.

        My point: characterizing Apple as *only* a tech company may ignore some key drivers of innovation that are integral to Apple's success. Horace was talking about 'innovation antibodies'. It would appear that Apple under Steve Jobs has not been afraid to disrupt its own product lines with innovation. Rather Apple's 'antibodies' might be more about a reluctance to enter new businesses. I am lousy at articulating this at the moment. But I suspect that a company's internal anti-innovation is largely informed by the company's self-image.

      • EWPellegrino

        Ok, so Apple isn't only a tech firm – it is for example also a retail firm. It's also not a simple tech firm because it makes both hardware and software. Within Software it makes OS & applications. Within hardware it makes computers and devices.

        If we stop thinking of Apple as a tech firm then we lose any compass whatsoever for considering which businesses it might enter. Nobody realistically expects that Apple will start selling apples for example.

        Apple enters consumer markets where technology is key but is being applied badly, or new technology is available but has not yet been successfully commercialized. Apple is more than just a tech company, but Apple is still a tech company.

      • Horace Dediu

        It's time to put aside simplistic categorizations of companies. The era of core competencies is coming to an end.

      • EWPellegrino

        Or do we just need to go from 'Core Competence' to 'Core competencies'. Amazon for example is a retail firm but it's also very clearly a tech firm. It isn't however a finance firm in spite of the fact that Bezos started his career working for D.E. Shaw.

        In computer terms we simply have to go from single inheritance to multiple inheritance.

  • Congrats. You can be proud to have both the best tech blog and podcast available on the web.

  • Guest

    @8e7a7e82209f35bb32703a269549a48c:disqus This was a mind blowingly good podcast Horace! I am going through the old favorites again and just heard this one. Any other resources you could point to in relation to what you spoke about in this episode? More specifically about guarding of new innovations at an organization by the CEO and the scientific revolution and renaissance man bits? Thanks again for taking the time every week to put out such a brilliant podcast

    • Sorry, I haven’t any sources for this except Christensen’s work on disruption theory.

  • fl1nty

    @8e7a7e82209f35bb32703a269549a48c:disqus @8e7a7e82209f35bb32703a269549a48c:disqus @8e7a7e82209f35bb32703a269549a48c:disqus This was a mind blowingly good podcast Horace! I am going through the old favorites again and just heard this one. Any other resources you could point to in relation to what you spoke about in this episode? More specifically about guarding of new innovations at an organization by the CEO and the scientific revolution and renaissance man bits? Thanks again for taking the time every week to put out such a brilliant podcast.

    P.S.: Sorry for copying three of your profiles on the msg, didn’t know which one was real