Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The auteur model of innovation

Goodness!  Yet another model to learn about.  Now we hear about the auteur model of innovation, an idea coined by John Kao, an innovation guru.  

Auteur: an innovator that has a distinctly personal style and maintains artistic control over all design and production aspects of his/her work [a definition adapted for projects from the film industry where the auteur model has been practiced for many years].  

Sounds a bit autocratic!  Whatever happened to the empowered team and even more broadly: the wisdom of the crowds?  What happened to the embedded customer model--think: SCRUM--and other customer-intimacy models like the market leader ideas of Treacy and Wiersema?  

Indeed! where is system engineering in this model?

In our world, the project world, and especially the technology project world where anyone can have an idea, the auteur model is a rare occurrence; a successful implementation, sustained over time, is even more rare.

But take a look at the poster child for the auteur model:  today that is Apple.  Without its innovative leader, the company foundered; with its bold visionary, the company prospers. And, in a decidedly not-agile way of doing things, it is said Apple never asks its customers anything.  They sure did not ask about a name for the iPad!  

Obviously, the dependency on one personality is Risk 1 for this model--both an upside opportunity and a downside risk.  For the successful, it's evident opportunity triumphs!.

But it's evident that Apple, and others with this model, go a step or two further.  
  • Step 1: make  your own market where one didn't exist;
  • Step 2: exploit that market with the simplest possible product that has the highest possible wow! factor. 
  • And, step 3: guard the gate!  Be selective about letting others ride the coattails of your own auteurist [is that a word?]
Mr Kao writes: "Mr. Jobs is undeniably a gifted marketer and showman, but he is also a skilled listener to the technology. He calls this “tracking vectors in technology over time,” to judge when an intriguing innovation is ready for the marketplace

Skilled listener?  Perhaps so.  One of the mantra's of the agile movement today is to be value on simplicity.  Apple has certainly gotten that.   Jobs told us that the floppy was dead 18mos before it was indeed dead; same for the FireWire [although Apple reinstated the Firewire].   And what is Apple?  The best possible example of the wisdom of simplicity.  Not that things Apple builds are simple; they are simply minimally complex!

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