This weekend I watched a streaming video from TED@IBM on Necessity & Invention. If you’re interested in how technology companies approach new inventions and innovation then you’ll enjoy the view. It’s IBM-centric, of course, but you can apply many of the same ideas and methods to Apple.
As a tech company, one that now dwarfs former foes IBM and Microsoft, Apple has always been about going forward; sometimes taking Mac, iPhone, and iPad customers kicking and screaming along the way, only for us later to realize that it’s Apple that pointed the way to the future and made a path to get there.
The question that struck me this weekend was, ‘Is necessity always the mother of invention?‘
Different Strokes, Different Appetites
What I took from the TED@IBM video was that invention, which includes innovation in all its forms, is innate and inherent in human nature.
Necessity is the mother of invention—or so we have been led to believe. We cannot help but suspect that our needs to create and to shape the world around us run much deeper than simple pragmatism. The deeply human need to produce something extraordinary from nothing remains essential to every great endeavor. That is why so many of our heroes, both ancient and newly minted, have a flair for the ingenious and an appetite for showing us a new way forward.
Sounds a bit like Apple co-founder Steve Jobs fits in there somewhere, right?
My answer to the question is a qualified ‘Yes!’ but there’s a definite need to define necessity and for whom. For example, many of Apple’s innovations in hardware and software user interface are incremental improvements which marry the two. But why?
Are these innovations– Touch ID, 3D Touch, Force Touch, and others come to mind– made to improve the user experience? Or, are they merely part of Apple’s own necessity to improve the product or ensure product differentiation with competitors?
If Everything Is A Remix, and I believe it is, then part of human nature is to improve on the status quo. As one of Mac360’s co-founders once wrote, ‘Nothing improves without change‘ and both innovation and invention are about change.
Nothing epitomizes this perspective more than Apple’s own ‘The Crazy Ones‘ in the Think Different advertising campaign which was initiated not long after Jobs’ second coming in 1997.
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ is a common refrain, a phrase which dates back about 500 years or so and often is defined as ‘when a need for something becomes imperative, you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it.’ Inventiveness and ingenuity are stimulated by difficulty but there’s more to it than that.
My nearly 20 years of corporate life have taught me that people within an organization can have two kinds of power. Personal power and Position power. Anyone can have both at the same time but it’s not a requirement. Steve Jobs had both; the vision and understanding to motivate engineers to excel, and the necessary power to summon the resources necessary to achieve a defined or ambiguous objective.
Is necessity always the mother of invention? Yes. But necessity needs to be well defined and obvious. Sometimes it’s not. For additional insight, Kevin Hamm has a good take on personal power vs. position power.