Russell Davies: Apple's ability to invent makes it the envy of the C-suite

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One of the best days I've had in the past year was at a pan-regional planning awayday in Berlin. I know. Doesn't sound promising, right? But we'd organised something slightly different for this one.

As well as the usual business of harmonising the global toolkit, we'd rounded up a bunch of hardware hackers and decided to get all the planners learning how to work with Arduino and code. Not because we wanted to turn them all into engineers (though that wouldn't hurt) but because we wanted to show them a) how it feels to connect the web to the world and get your computer doing something it had never done before, and b) how easy it is.

I think we succeeded. I've never seen such a bunch of energised planners. They're naturally curious people, so when shown a whole new domain to understand, they're wide-eyed and excited. And there are the satisfactions of team dynamics and working with your hands. But I think it was more than that - I think it was getting the chance to do some product thinking that got them going. And that feels like a good thing to get people excited about right now.

When you talk to global chief executives these days, one of the things they talk about is their concern about invention. Their businesses have spent the past decade on efficiency. They've been incorporating the web and globalisation, they've been fixing systems, optimising structures and squeezing efficiencies out of processes. And they've been trying to make their marketing more accountable.

But now they look around and realise they've forgotten how to invent. They can't create genuinely new products, only incremental improvements on what's gone before.

And they look at Apple - the most colossal business success of the moment - and realise that it's not built on efficiency or scale or systems. It's built on a rabid, dedicated commitment to design and the invention of radical new things.

Businesses are getting fed up with all our bunny about social media gubbins because they're not looking for new ways to sell, they're looking for new things to sell.

This feels like the new frontier to me: the next seismic change we're going to have to embrace. The "C-suite" is increasingly interested in design, not because of the magic of "design thinking" but because design agencies can put a new product on the table and promise a whole new business opportunity - not just a slightly improved way of selling the old one.

There's no reason why we can't learn that stuff. It'll take work and practice and training, but the best place to start is enthusiasm. And that's what excited me about the planners in Berlin.


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