22 February 2006

The ‘apple’ process

First, I should set the stage… I recently had my first job interview in over 20 years. I have had interactions with several companies, all of them high tech, and all of them international. My conversations were a result of what appears to be a rare and now sought after combination of degrees. An MBA and a Masters in Interaction Design, to say nothing of a BFA prior to that seems to be the exception to the rule.

I have spent a lot of that time asking designers, managers and researchers inside these companies about their the process for innovation. Some have a clear and defined process, others more exploratory but they were most all willing to discuss it.

It is hard to read a blog or even search for “innovation” without being hit over the head by the “IDEO” process. Tom Kelley or Tim Brown are always ready to promote or explain their process, even to the point of writing somewhat redundant books on the topic.

So to the point… I spent a week in the Union Square - SoMa area in January at MacWorld. Part working (I am just leaving the post of VP Marketing for Griffin Technologies) part of fun (have been a long time Mac guy) and part as an informal job search. In at least six conversations with Apple employees I tried to ask about their process for innovation. Often it was in the form of, “tell me about your new product development group?” On more than one occasion I got the exact same answer. “Oh, that would Steve, you know, Steve Jobs”. Yeah, I HAVE heard of the guy. Come on, is the Apple PR hype machine a well oiled machine or what? Can one guy really be the epicenter for all of these innovations? Surely there are a bunch of qualified elves helping Santa? While I fully appreciate the benefits of secrecy, a small leak hear or there would be nice.

A recent interview in Time (October 24, 2005) gave some insight into what t is not. But, I want to know, does apple do cultural centric market investigation? Do they do qualitative design research? Do they employ ethnographers, social scientists, cognitive folks? Do they spend time in the field? Or, is it just supreme all knowing magical wisdom that guides their product development. With all due respect to the almighty “Steve” of course.