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451 Research Podcast

Next in Tech | Episode 40: Tech goes to Space

Listen: Next in Tech | Special Episode: Guy Kawasaki on Innovation

Sorting out the roots of innovation is complex and this special edition of Next in Tech brings in Guy Kawasaki, Apple veteran and inveterate innovator, to discuss its many aspects with host Eric Hanselman. The metaphors run hot and heavy (including a breakfast as a guide to empathy) as they explore ways that organizations can embrace innovation. Success stories are many and it’s worth taking a glance into the dustbin of history.

Hear more topics at: https://www.spglobal.com/451Nexus

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Transcript provided by Kensho.


Eric Hanselman

Welcome to Next in Tech, an S&P Global Market Intelligence podcast, where the world of emerging tech lives. I'm your host, Eric Hanselman, principal research analyst for the 451 Research arm of S&P Global Market Intelligence. And today, we're going to be discussing innovation with a special guest, Guy Kawasaki. Guy, welcome to the Next in Tech podcast.

Guy Kawasaki

Thank you. Thank you very much for having me as a guest.

Question and Answer

Eric Hanselman

Well, it's great to have you on. With your background, starting out at Apple and working with Steve Jobs in areas that have been really some of the icons of innovation, what have you learned? What did that teach you? And what are perspectives on innovation that we could head into?

Guy Kawasaki

If there is a place to learn about innovation and tech, it would have been the Macintosh division in the 1980s. You could not ask for a better situation than that. And let me just say, there are some positives and some negatives when I say that.

Eric Hanselman

Innovation has upsides and downsides.

Guy Kawasaki

Well, and working for Steve Jobs has upsides and downsides. So I would say that some of the principal lessons that I learned are, first of all, your current customer, even your current prospective customer, have a very difficult time telling you how to "innovate," how to get to the next curve, how to revolutionize an industry or a product or a service because most people, when asked something like that, will respond in terms of what they already know.

And so if you're buying an Apple II from Apple and Apple says, "Well, what would you like in a new personal computer?" The -- just the very nature of the question means you're going to get answers from people who are familiar with your current product telling you better, faster, cheaper Apple II. Nobody would discuss a Macintosh unless you had an Apple II and you worked at Xerox PARC, but the probability of that is pretty low.

Eric Hanselman

So that's a really small percentage of that total customer base. So...

Guy Kawasaki

Yes. Yes. So therein lies the challenge, that if you ask your current customer, if you're "marketing-driven," and you ask them, "Well, how can we improve our product?" They would say, "Better, faster, cheaper Apple II." No one would describe a Macintosh. That would be like asking a fish to describe flying, although there are flying fish, but I hope you get my drift. And so that is one very important lesson.

So of course, if I'm telling you that you can't ask your current customer, well, how do you figure it out? And therein lies the genius of Steve Jobs. And depending on how you want to look at him, you would say that he either could envision and predict what people will come to need, that he figured out that people will need a graphical user interface, a more easy way to interact with the computer. That's one way of looking at Steve, that he was ahead of his time.

Another way of looking at it is Steve made whatever the hell he thought was good and then he convinced the world that they wanted it, too. Either explanation works for Steve. And I think he did a little of both actually.

Eric Hanselman

I was going to say, maybe sprinkling both ends of that onto that process, but...

Guy Kawasaki

Yes. Well, you can't argue with his results. So I think that was one of the major, major lessons that I learned in the Macintosh days, and it was not at all apparent to me. Now on the flip side, maybe this somewhat contradicts what I just said. But I also was very naive, and I thought that the best widget, the best gadget would naturally, easily, inevitably win. And so we were...

Eric Hanselman

Technology triumphs overall, right?

Guy Kawasaki

Absolutely. And so we were thinking, wow, someday, 95% of the world's computers will be running on a Macintosh. Let's just say we never achieve that number. And so I also learned a harsh lesson, which is the best widget does not necessarily win. So -- and these 2 things are somewhat in conflict. So yes, those are the 2 major lessons that I learned.

Eric Hanselman

Well, but I guess when you start thinking about it, it's -- I mean, you're a big fan of the audacious goal.

Guy Kawasaki

Yes.

Eric Hanselman

And that transition to envisioning what is best and translating that into what you can actually achieve, maybe a big part of that is really being able to hang that big, hairy audacious goal out there and start thinking about what that potential next target is. But as you were saying, you've got to envision that to be able to get to a point at which you can think about making it real.

Guy Kawasaki

And that is not a trivial task. And you know what else? There's definitely a factor of sort of retroactive selective memory because we only remember the big, hairy audacious goals that succeeded, right? So we -- and then we think, oh, let's extrapolate from all these success stories. This is how you do it. But you don't remember or you don't know of the 99% that failed.

So none of us are using Commodore PET #15 right now, and most people are scratching their heads saying, "Guy -- what is Guy talking about?" So part of it is it is very hard to really examine innovation in a statistically valid way. And it tends to be kind of on a storytelling basis that this is what Steve did, which it may not be statistically relevant that, okay, Steve is an outlier, he happened to pull it off. That doesn't mean you can do the same thing.

So that's what's tricky about talking to someone like me because I am not a historian. I don't have the total perspective. And I'm certainly not a scientist who is testing a null hypothesis and had controls of every factor except over the product innovation and that identified the product -- that identified the factor that made Apple successful. It's -- I was used to say it's complicated.

Eric Hanselman

Well, I mean, we're human. We really like mythology. We like those stories because those are the things that give us some of that perspective and help us to integrate some of those aspects. But to your point, it's also the problem that makes it really complicated to be able to integrate those into a perspective around tech because it really is so easy to get focused on that shiny object and be in that mode of, oh, wow, this is the next new thing, this is whatever particular awesome, truly disruptive thing is that's out there and lose sight of the fact that you've got to make that happen in a real world.

Guy Kawasaki

In Silicon Valley, let me explain how it works. So in Silicon Valley, we throw a lot of things up against the wall. And 1% or maybe 1/10 of a percent stick to the wall. And then we get our little paintbrushes and we go up to the wall, and we paint the bull's eye over what stuck. And then we declare victory, and we say, "Aren't we visionaries? Aren't we innovators? Aren't we revolutionaries? We are so smart. We hit the bull's eye." Well, let me tell you that you can always hit the bull's eye if you paint the bull's eye after you see what's stuck in the wall.

Eric Hanselman

Well, yes, the victors write the history, right?

Guy Kawasaki

Exactly. Exactly. Now on the other hand, let's also say that I'm saying that selective memory focuses on the success stories. But you know what, every once in a while, there's a Theranos that offers the negative lesson, too. So that's important. That's balance.

Eric Hanselman

Well, it's being able to ensure that there are cautionary tales that are out there too, that everybody's seen whatever the particular crash and burn happens to be. I don't know how many T-shirts I have of failed companies out there or conferences that no longer happen, that you can sort of hang on to those talismans and sort of, ah, here was the thing that maybe shouldn't have happened.

Guy Kawasaki

Well, but this -- there are counter examples, that's for sure. But I would bet that 5 years from now, if you were to ask young entrepreneurs, tech entrepreneurs, what was Theranos, most of them will not remember. But if you ask them what was Apple or Tesla, they will absolutely know what it was.

Eric Hanselman

The dustbin of history gets emptied pretty regularly. But that's -- you raised that point, that it's useful to be able to get those perspectives about what didn't work. I mean if you think about modern developmental cultures, I mean, one of the things that I'm a big fan of is the blameless postmortem, being able to get to a point at which there's some acknowledgment about what happened.

I've been reading through, I'm sure a lot of our audience was aware of, the Facebook outage. What was -- man, here's a great example to figure out. What was it that caused the disruption that looked like that, and especially in an organization that operates at a scale, a speed, that has the potential to potentially go that far wrong.

Guy Kawasaki

Well, and also, if we really want to think about Facebook, they are saying it was a unique set of circumstances that caused systems to fail, right? And I don't know if that's settling or unsettling because it's saying that, at some level, we're all clueless.

But let's pretend, let's be even more skeptical. Let's say they were hacked. Let's say, it was some massive denial of service at the highest, whatever, right? It was an act, a purposeful malicious act. They wouldn't admit it, right? So we don't really know. So that's the tricky thing.

But you mentioned the word "postmortem." I would like to offer a better model. The problem, in my humble opinion, of a postmortem is that with the postmortem, after death, most of the people who caused the death are gone. They have been laid off, fired, quit. They've gone on to screw up other things.

So with a postmortem, who do you talk to? There's nobody left to talk to except the "medical examiner." So I think the more constructive model is a pre-mortem. And the way the pre-mortem works is that you have this somewhat artificial setting where you say, "Okay, so let's just make a list of every possible thing that could make us fail."

And it's not about saying, "Okay, engineering sucks," and you bring this up in a staff meeting. Everything is fair game, whether it's true or not. So engineering sucks, documentation sucks, Microsoft enters our market, Apple sues us for copyright infringements, just name everything. It's not based on fact and observation that, "I'm the marketing guy, and I'm telling you engineering sucks." This is -- anybody can name any cause. And then you get all these causes out on the table or potential causes, and you go down the list and you try to eliminate them all. So rather than trying to figure out what killed you, you figure out all the things that can kill you and eliminate those in advance. And I think that's a much more useful tool.

Eric Hanselman

You're kind of heading into chaos theory when you think about testing and a lot of those things of what are all of the different pieces that could get thrown at you and what -- in a chaotic system. Well, and I sort of wonder from the Facebook perspective, does that get to a point at which you're running an operation that's running at a scale, which just starts getting a lot harder to identify what those potential contributing factors are and when you think about what all of those various different exits that they could have gone through.

Guy Kawasaki

Well, plus we could all be in a simulation. So maybe God said, "Oh, let's bring down Facebook for 6 hours and see what happens." And the gods were laughing yesterday.

Eric Hanselman

And man, she was having a rare old time.

Guy Kawasaki

I picture her as kind of a Whoopi Goldberg kind of goddess or god. That's my preferred model.

Eric Hanselman

Yes. Didn't Whoopi Goldberg play a deity at one point? Yes, absolutely, somebody having a good old chuckle, is like, oh, yes, well, that's what they do now. Well, beyond deities -- and actually, one of the things before we go too far down the road, I want to get a plug-in, thinking about infrastructure and all the things that could potentially get covered. I want to get a quick plug-in for our 451Nexus conference, that is talking about all of those things in infrastructure and what needs to happen, coming up on the 19th of October.

They will be talking about innovation and a lot of the capabilities that organizations need to be considering because when you start thinking about a lot of the potential aspects of what are you going to need to be able to support this, whether or not it's figuring out what can go wrong, heck, I think a lot of organizations today are still figuring out what are the pieces they need to be able to build their environments to be able to do more, better, and to be able to get beyond where they are today.

Guy Kawasaki

If I may add a point there, as I get older, I think that maybe the most important attitude and factor in this kind of innovation and fulfilling and exceeding your customers' stated and unstated desires and needs is empathy. Empathy is the key. If you can empathize with your customer, I think that is a much, much better foundation to innovate and deliver great stuff than, I don't know, mushroom-induced hallucinations of grandeur.

So no, I don't think anybody has ever put the word Steve Jobs and empathy in a sentence together. But I will say, at some level, Steve could understand and empathize with the frustration of people, and that helped him create the graphical user interface. I mean I would attribute that to empathy, not that most people would say, "Oh, yes, Steve Jobs, what an empathetic character."

Eric Hanselman

So where do you think -- is that a step beyond understanding? I'm curious about some of those pieces because, to your point, empathy and understanding, I think empathy is a much more powerful approach.

Guy Kawasaki

Well, yes -- yes. Well, understanding, I mean, understanding implies that you hired a consultant and they did a study and they came up with a 2x2 matrix, and they charge you $5 million to tell you, you need to be in the upper-right corner. That's understanding, and they did that with a PowerPoint. And the person presenting was an oriental art history major with an MBA. So I...

Eric Hanselman

But the PowerPoint looked awesome.

Guy Kawasaki

Hopefully, they did it in Canva. But I would say, to use a, I think, a very timeworn but so appropriate metaphor, I would say the difference between understanding and empathy is like the difference in 2 animals' contribution to breakfast. Now you're wondering, "What the h*** are you talking about, Guy?"

So I would say that empathy is the pig. The pig to make bacon dies, okay? Understanding is the chicken. The chicken just lays an egg. That's the difference between empathy and understanding. You're the pig, you gave your life for breakfast. The chicken just laid an egg.

Eric Hanselman

All about how much effort and commitment you're putting into that process. Yes. That's a great example.

Guy Kawasaki

People all around the world are scratching their heads like, "Why did S&P bring this guy? And like what the h*** is he talking about? I thought we were going to talk about like, I don't know, NFTs and cyber currency and cybersecurity. And now we're talking about chickens and pigs and bacon and eggs."

Eric Hanselman

Well, but that's all at the root of innovation. If you think about being able to actually figure this stuff out, it's a matter of being able to get to that extra level. And that's one of those things we think about, the root of really being able to get beyond just the basic conceptual stuff, to get beyond the blinded-by-technology kind of pieces. It's actually being able to get to that higher goal of being able to really understand and integrate what you're trying to accomplish, with what you're putting on the table.

Guy Kawasaki

Well, absolutely. And even beyond that, and I think this is attributed to Steve, but maybe not. One thing you have to give to Steve is he knew what to steal. So even if he didn't originate his thought, give him credit for stealing it. So the thought is real entrepreneurs ship. They ship. They get it out the door. And that's an important -- you can understand or empathize all you like, but at some point, real entrepreneurs ship.

Eric Hanselman

But you don't sell 100% of the products you don't ship, right, to sort of paraphrase Wayne Gretzky.

Guy Kawasaki

Yes, exactly. It's like surfing. You don't catch 100% of the waves you don't paddle for. Yes.

Eric Hanselman

So the real challenge in innovation is not only coming up with the ideas, empathizing with your customers, but then really being able to move forward with the speed, the pace and the ability to be able to actually deliver on the vision that you put together.

Guy Kawasaki

What a concept. Yes, you do have to ship. And then I don't want to shake people up too much, but after you ship, it's not over yet. After you ship, then you have to revise. And then after you revise, you have to jump curves again. And so we need to dissuade people from the thought that entrepreneurship is an event. It is a process.

And this is a lesson I also learned at Apple because I thought, when we announced Macintosh on January 24, 1984, the hard work was done. We shipped. I come to find out the hard work was just beginning, and to use a war analogy, though I hate using war analogies because it's not really analogous to business, but once you conquer some place, you could make the case that that's the hard part, lives were lost, you fought a war, and now you won.

Well, now the real work begins. You have to put in the plumbing and you have to put in the electricity. And you build schools, and you have to do all -- you have to run the country now, right? That's the hard part, which actually leads to another point, that there are 2 kinds of people who are needed, not just the revolutionaries, not just the people who take the beach. You also need the maintainers and the revisers who have to make things work after the beach is taken.

Eric Hanselman

Yes. But you've also -- I'm getting back to your breakfast analogy, and I'm thinking that, yes, you've got to be able to then build out and support. But you got to make sure that, that end of the equation doesn't wind up getting stuck as well. I mean it's one of these problems that we base on the infrastructure side so often, which is that we built the new, new thing. We were able to be -- we got out there and we're able to get this new capability set up. And how do we keep moving? How do we keep that idea that everything we've built is really ought to be up there, ready to be sacrificed for the next thing and to keep that motion going?

And that's one of those challenges that, I mean, granted, living in a cloudy, cloud-native mindset helps a little bit. But the bottom line is that we've got to make sure that we don't stagnate and that, that keeps moving, and that we've got the ability to keep it moving, keep those skids greased and keep things moving forward.

Guy Kawasaki

And that is the biggest challenge of all because at some point, you would like to declare victory and kick back for a while, right, well, which is kind of my point. I mean you can kick back, but if you have maintainers as opposed to revolutionaries, they can pick up the slack, right? And so it really -- it takes 2 kinds of people or at least 2 kinds of psychologies to truly make a business work.

Eric Hanselman

And to be able to keep that motion in place because you do, it's like digging a tunnel. You got to have somebody behind you who's shoring it up as you keep going forward. If you don't have somebody who's putting in those timbers -- the trick is, you want to make sure that you keep those people putting up the timbers right behind you because if they're not right behind you, they don't keep moving forward, then you got another problem. But that's that challenge, is we start looking at that tech cycle, People talk about that sort of virtuous cycle and how that moves forward. But yes, and so...

Guy Kawasaki

That's the difference between, to use another metaphor, that's the difference between a peer and a bridge. God, it's so many metaphors, so little time.

Eric Hanselman

We -- that is it -- indeed, we have to land on metaphors left, right and center, but ones that I think, that for our audience, hopefully, will give them some insight into what are ways to be able to keep that momentum moving, to be able to go through that cycle. And much like riding a wave, there are those, the peaks and the swells, and you get to rest on the swell and ride the peak, you need to ensure that your organization has the ability to do that as well.

Guy Kawasaki

Yes. And that's why all of this is so hard. And don't let anybody tell you it's not.

Eric Hanselman

Well, and I think one of the things that, coming out of the pandemic, I think for a lot of organizations, at least my perception is, is that I think organizations have taken a step back, I mean, and people have taken a step back more broadly and are willing to cut themselves more slack more often. And I hope that at least as we move forward, that we don't get out of that mode of really being able to understand that if there are uptimes, there are downtimes. This is a cycle. The sun goes around, the moon comes up. You need to be able to keep those in mind and keep yourself moving.

Guy Kawasaki

Yes. Amen.

Eric Hanselman

Well, Guy, it has been a pleasure having you on the podcast. I appreciate all the insights and the time you spent with us...

Guy Kawasaki

I bet you say that to all the guests, but that's okay.

Eric Hanselman

Well, I do and I admit for all of them as well. That's the great thing about running this podcast is that I get to spend time with a whole bunch of people who are opening my mind to a whole bunch of different things. So...

Guy Kawasaki

Well, I'm flattered. All right.

Eric Hanselman

Which is greatly appreciated.

Guy Kawasaki

Okay. Thank you very much, and all the best to you and your listeners.

Eric Hanselman

Thank you, and thanks to our audience for hanging in there with us. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will be ranging far and wide yet again because there is always something Next in Tech.

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