Cover Story – Guy Kawasaki


When it comes to innovation, there is no place on Earth that does it better than Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley has produced some of the most innovative companies on the planet including: HP, Apple, Google and Facebook. We’ve had the privilege of tapping into the mind of a Silicon Valley insider and also one of the foremost authorities in marketing and innovation, Mr Guy Kawasaki. In this first part of our feature, Guy reveals truths about innovation, and in the following segment he answers three crucial questions which are relevant to us in Brunei!

I’m getting tired of writing about lies, so today I’m covering truths. Specifically, the truths of innovation. I hold these truths to not be self-evident; hence we see so little innovation.

Jump to the next curve.
Too many companies duke it out on the same curve. If they were daisy wheel printer companies, they think innovation means adding Helvetica in 24 points. Instead, they should invent laser printing. True innovation happens when a company jumps to the next curve–or better still, invents the next curve, so set your goals high.

Don’t worry, be crappy.
An innovator doesn’t worry about shipping an innovative product with elements of crappiness if it’s truly innovative. The first permutation of an innovation is seldom perfect– Macintosh, for example, didn’t have software (thanks to me), a hard disk (it wouldn’t matter with no software anyway), slots, and colour. If a company waits–for example, the engineers convince management to add more features–until everything is perfect, it will never ship, and the market will pass it by.

Churn, baby, churn.
I’m saying it’s okay to ship crap–I’m not saying that it’s okay to stay crappy. A company must improve version 1.0 and create version 1.1, 1.2, … 2.0. This is a difficult lesson to learn because it’s so hard to ship an innovation; therefore, the last thing employees want to deal with is complaints about their perfect baby. Innovation is not an event. It’s a process.

Don’t be afraid to polarise people.
Most companies want to create the holy grail of products that appeals to every demographic, social-economic background, and geographic location. To attempt to do so guarantees mediocrity. Instead, create great DICEE (Deep, Indulgent, Complete, Elegant, Emotive) products that make segments of people very happy. And fear not if these products make other segments unhappy. The worst case is to incite no passionate reactions at all, and that happens when companies try to make everyone happy

Break down the barriers.
The way life should work is that innovative products are easy to sell. Dream on. Life isn’t fair. Indeed, the more innovative, the more barriers the status quo will erect in your way. Entrepreneurs should understand this upfront and not get flustered when market acceptance comes slowly. I’ve found that the best way to break barriers is enable people to test drive your innovation: download your software, take home your hardware, whatever it takes.

Guy has written thirteen books beginning in 1987 with The Macintosh Way. His two latest books are The Art of the Start 2.0 and The Art of Social Media.

“Let a hundred flowers blossom.”
I stole this from Chairman Mao. Innovators need to be flexible about how people use their products. Avon created Skin So Soft to soften skin, but when parents used it as an insect repellant, Avon went with the flow. Apple thought it created a spreadsheet/ database/wordprocessing computer; but, come to find out, customers used it as a desktop publishing machine. The lesson is: Don’t be proud. Let a hundred flowers blossom.

Think digital, act analog.
Thinking digital means that companies should use all the digital tools at its disposal–computers, web sites, instruments, whatever–to create great products. But companies should act analog–that is, they must remember that the purpose of innovation is not cool products and cool technologies but happy people. Happy people is a decidedly analog goal.

Never ask people to do what you wouldn’t do.
This is a great test for any company. Suppose a company invents the world’s greatest mousetrap. It murders mice better than anything in the history of mankind–in fact, it’s nuclear powered. The problem is that the customer needs a PhD to set it, it costs $500,000, and has to drop off the dead, radioactive mouse 500 miles away in the middle of the desert. No one at the company would jump through those hoops–it shouldn’t expect customers to either.

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

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

Photo courtesy of Guy Kawasaki


In your example for “Jump to the next curve”, the “innovative goal” of the daisy wheel printer companies’ is to achieve breakthroughs like laser printing as opposed to creating Helvetica in 24 points. The problem is, like all great ideas, jumping to the next curve often seems more obvious and easier in hindsight than actually doing it. What are some of the strategies to identify what the next curve is?
If it was easy to create, or even identify the next curve, more people would do it. Creating or identifying the next curve is one of the hardest things to do—this is why so few companies jump curves and last a long time. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to be the creator or first adopter of a new curve. You can be a “fast second” and still succeed.

For example, one could make the case that Apple was a fast follower of Xerox PARC. Or, you could attribute the first graphical user interface to Apple (Macintosh), and then Microsoft (Windows) was the fast second.

The alternative to not trying to create or being a first or second adopter is to not innovate, and this is also a risky path. This is why business is always exciting.

Like most oil producing countries, Brunei’s economy has taken a hit with the falling oil price. The country has been calling its people to be more innovative to diversify, to look for alternative sources of income and to explore entrepreneurship in order to sustain long term prosperity. What can we learn from Silicon Valley’s innovative culture to inspire more innovation in our country?
The answer to this question could fill (and has) an entire book. The hardest step will be changing the mindset of sticking a pipe in the ground to make money. The tech world is different because the supply cannot be artificially constrained; it is impossible to “set a per barrel price” on tech innovation.

Instead competition focuses on the quality of intellectual ideas and their implementation. You will need a crisis to force you to look at different technologies and markets because the old ways won’t work or won’t work as well.

Here are a few things you should not necessarily do:
(a) hire western experts and consultants;
(b) create a venture capital fund;
(c) “partner” with western organisations. There will be plenty of people who are happy to take your money and help you feel like you’re doing as much as you can. What you want to accomplish is very hard, so don’t be tempted by shortcuts.

Here are a few things you should do:
(a) create the world’s best school of engineering (I don’t mean petroleum engineering; I mean computer science, materials science, and biotech);
(b) send your best and brightest to live in Silicon Valley, so that they can see “another way”;
(c) be patient because this is going to take fifteen to twenty years to work.

Can you tell us about the last time you were “enchanted” with an innovative product or service?
I am enchanted by innovative products and services about once a week. There are so many smart people working on clever ideas—this is a great time to be alive. The biggest enchantment I experienced lately is Canva, and that’s why I now work for the company. This is a product that will democratise design in the same way Apple democratised computing and Google democratised information.

This article was published in the Apr-Jun 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!