I’m fascinated by cars. More to the point, I’m fascinated by expensive cars. I also happen to be fascinated by electric cars, which made the new all-electric Rolls Royce 102EX Phantom prototype an automatic favorite.
So I’m browsing around looking for a price, specs, speeds, etc (just out of curiosity) and I come across a great article from Ben Oliver at Wired. What stuck in my mind though, was not the fact this prototype cost 3 million bucks to build. And it wasn’t the fact that, despite literally weighing 3 tons, it’ll get to 60mph in less than 8 seconds. What made me sit up and take notice was Ben’s comment about Rolls Royce feeling as though they had no choice but to jump into the electric game:
“Rolls-Royce knows that it if it is to survive its second century, it must adapt to the times. Its customers may not be particularly concerned with things like fuel economy and emissions, but regulators on both sides of the Atlantic sure are.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter if the good folks at Rolls want to go green or not. The world is changing and those who don’t plan accordingly will soon find their products in a museum instead of a showroom.
Of course, Rolls Royce is in better shape than most. Throwing $3 million at a prototype may not give their CFO the same heart attack mine would have. But they’re still innovating at gunpoint which puts them in the same relative position as many of us.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m in the technology business – innovations is what we do. But there’s innovating based on the schedule you develop to best serve your customers, and then there’s innovation done to avoid being crushed by outside forces like federal legislation or a deteriorating supply of natural resources. In the latter case, you don’t get to pick your timing. And that can be dangerous.
As an example, I give you my favorite show in the world, Top Chef. For those of you who have not yet enjoyed the gastronomical train wreck that rivets me week after week, the premise is simple: There are twenty chefs on the first show. By the second show, one of them is gone. It’s like Survivor except everyone is portly not emaciated.
But lest you think this is a true battle of culinary prowess, I must mention that every single meal is produced under duress. The clock starts, they run around like mad, and 45 minutes later they present the best or the worst food they’ve ever made.
Now, allow me to turn Top Chef into a metaphor for innovation. Making great food is not their top priority. Getting it done faster and better than the worst chef before the clock runs out comes way before the desire to create something truly magnificent.
Of course, I don’t really mind this when it comes to Top Chef because I find it unendingly entertaining. But when it comes to product development, I’m somewhat less enthusiastic. Imagine going to a museum and the tour guide explains that they’re so very proud of this Monet because he painted it in under a minute and it sucks less than the Matisse.
Ok, you say. But I thought necessity was the mother of invention. Well, I’d have to agree with that. But nowhere in that statement is the quality of the invention inferred. Because, if you’re trapped under ice, using your shoe as an ice pick is very inventive and may save your life. But all things being equal, I’d rather spend the better part of a year creating the world’s most wonderful ice pick out of carbon fiber and titanium alloy with a super ergonomic memory foam handle and a secret compartment for toothpicks.
In the end, you do what you have to do. No one has a crystal ball so it’s impossible to foresee all the bends in the road before you get there. And if you do have to create under less than perfect circumstances – as we all do from time to time – my advice is to make peace with the timeline and give it everything you’ve got.
But if you want to create something incredible; something over which the world’s population will ogle and marvel for decades to come, I suggest you turn off the phone, dim the lights and forget the world exists. No alarms, no undue external influence. Just great ideas and an open mind.