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Never Been Done

What is true innovation, and how do you get there? Your first step is to keep reading.

Innovation is an art: It's more magic and luck than procedure. Here's how to get lucky.

1. Jump to the next curve. Too many companies duke it out on the same curve. If they're daisy-wheel printer companies, they think innovation means adding 24-point Helvetica. Instead, they should invent laser printing. True innovation happens when a company jumps to the next curve--or better still, invents the next curve.

2. Don't worry, be crappy. An innovator doesn't worry about shipping a "perfect" product. If a company waits until everything is perfect, the product will never ship, and the market will pass it by. If you've jumped curves, the market will accept imperfections.

3. Churn, baby, churn. It's OK to ship crap--it's not OK to stay crappy. You must improve version 1.0 and create version 1.1, 1.2 . . . 2.0. Innovation is not an event--it's a process.

4. Don't be afraid to polarize people. Attempting to appeal to every demographic guarantees mediocrity. Instead, create great products that make segments of people very happy--and fear not if those products make other segments unhappy. The worst case is to incite no passionate reactions at all; that happens when you try to make everyone happy.

5. Break down the barriers. The more innovative your product is, the more barriers the status quo will present. Entrepreneurs should not get flustered when market acceptance comes slowly. The best way to break barriers is to enable people to test-drive your innovation.

6. "Let a hundred flowers blossom." I stole this from Chairman Mao. Innovators need to be flexible about how people use their products. Apple thought it had created a spreadsheet/database/word-processing computer, but customers used it as a desktop publishing machine. When parents used Avon's Skin So Soft as an insect repellent, Avon went with the flow.

7. Think digital, act analog. Thinking digital means companies should use all the digital tools at their disposal to create great products. Acting analog means remembering that the purpose of innovation is not cool products and cool technologies, but happy people.

8. Never ask people to do what you wouldn't do. Suppose you invent the world's greatest mousetrap, but the customer needs a Ph.D. to set it and has to drop off the dead, radioactive mouse 500 miles away. No one at your company would jump through those hoops--don't expect customers to, either.

9. Don't let the bozos grind you down. The bozos will tell a company that what it's doing can't be done and isn't necessary. Some bozos are clearly losers--they're easy to ignore. The dangerous ones are rich, famous and powerful--innovators may assume they are right. They're not; they're just successful on the previous curve, so they cannot comprehend, much less embrace, the next curve.

Guy Kawasaki's mantra is "Empower entrepreneurs." He is the former chief evangelist for Apple Inc., co-founder of VC firm Garage Technology Ventures and author of eight books--most recently The Art of the Start. Visit his blog at http://blog.guykawasaki.com for more about this month's topic.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop, a managing director at VC firm Garage Technology Ventures, former chief evangelist for Apple Inc. and author of eight books--most recently The Art of the Start. Visit his company's site, alltop.com.

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This article was originally published in the May 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Never Been Done.

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