Most of us admire innovators—those freewheeling, creative people who are not afraid to think about and then actually do something revolutionary. That perfectly describes Guy Kawasaki, an author, technology entrepreneur, and former Apple executive who spoke on "The art of innovation" at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Annual Global Conference in September. Kawasaki's California-surfer-dude style was highly entertaining. But behind his humorous banter were thought-provoking, often surprising recommendations on how to develop innovative ideas, products, and services.
One of Kawasaki's messages was that you don't have to be a technological genius to be an innovator. In his view, innovation is not even about technology. Rather, it hinges on a willingness to "think different," as Apple suggested in its iconic 1990s advertising campaign. Great innovations, he said, are spawned by a desire to "make meaning." The example he cited was Apple's mission of "democratizing" computers, making them accessible and usable by almost anyone—an idea that has led not just to extraordinarily popular products but also to lasting societal change.
Kawasaki described other keys to innovation that had nothing to do with technology per se. He advised conference attendees to create a mantra—not a mission statement, but "a reason why your company and its products should exist." Rather than worry about perfection from the start, he counseled, move a revolutionary idea forward quickly and refine it as you get feedback. "And don't just take something and make it 10 percent better, make it 10 times better," he added.
Those are just a few of Kawasaki's observations on paths to genuine innovation. His other comments revolved around people: listening to them (unless they tell you you can't do something), learning from their feedback, creating a product or service they find empowering, and giving them more of what they want instead of making a product and trying to figure out why people aren't buying it. Again, not about technology.
And yet ... technology is the critical enabler, the thing that allows creative thinkers to turn a concept into reality. That is what opens the way for supply chain managers to not only "think different" but also to do things differently—to solve a previously unsolvable problem, for instance, or to discover a more efficient, less costly way to bring food, supplies, and services to those who need them.
So I propose an addendum of sorts to Kawasaki's encouraging message that we all can be innovators if we change the way we think: Behind every innovative, life-changing business idea stands some piece of technology that makes it possible to move beyond thought and into the realm of reality.