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Innovating by ignoring convention

Posting in Technology

There's no shortage of opinions about what Apple should do. My former Technologizer colleague, turned TIME editor-at-large, Harry McCracken's opinion is that it shouldn't always listen to armchair analysts. He cited numerous examples of when pundits fell short with their predictions and Apple took a different tack.

McCracken made four major observations about how following the here and now is bad for Apple:

1. The stuff Apple must do usually amounts to following an industry trend in much the same way that everybody else is doing it, right this very moment. 
2. Though Apple does frequently respond to industry trends, it’s not in the company’s nature to do so in precisely the way that everybody expects, and it often bides its time before doing anything at all. 
3. Time and time again, Apple doesn’t do what Apple must do…and yet the results aren’t calamitous. 
4. In some instances, the things people insist Apple must do — such as make a netbook — are not only not necessities, but terrible ideas.

In essence, Apple would cease to create new product categories if it always responded to the here and now. Steve Jobs's official biography highlights how Apple bypassed the CD-burner/Napster music revolution and instead opted for a longer term strategy that led to the iPod and iTunes store. Its approach is what prevailed.

The same holds true for other current and longstanding innovators. Here are a few examples:

  • China's Weixin combines elements of Facebook, Instagram, and push-to-talk voice messages. A New York Times profile highlights how it decided to blaze its own path versus cloning Facebook.
  • Polaroid was wildly ambitious with consumer products under its co-founder Edwin Land. Land demanded that employees challenge themselves and push every company effort to excess.
  • Corning has reinvented itself by developing new technologies and manufacturing at scale.
  • Elon Musk is raising the bar on business and technology innovation.
  • Google's understanding that it remains an advertising company at its core.
  • Amazon's emphasis on customer service
Do you believe that other companies should be on this list? Tell us why.

— By on January 23, 2014, 9:24 PM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure