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The Seven Laws of Innovation

What do Altoids and iPods have in common?

Both were innovative products that redefined the way consumers thought about goods and how they could be packaged. Although they were released more than two centuries apart, they established recognizable brands through a simple, distinctive shape.

In a talk hosted by the Design and Innovation Club on February 4, Hunter Tura, president and CEO of Bruce Mau Design, Inc., told students that while innovation is a current buzzword, the fundamentals of innovation have remained constant over time. He presented what he called “Seven Laws of Innovation” that should guide managers.

  1. Innovation is work: Some may believe that innovation comes from a single moment of clarity. But the best innovations only look easy, requiring dedicated teams to assemble and perfect. “It takes an incredible amount of work to create something that looks clean and simple,” Tura said, citing the iPod as an example.
  2. Innovation demands constraints: Rather than emerging from unfettered creativity, innovation is often enabled by strict parameters and guidelines.
  3. Innovation is not always new: The iPod changed the way consumers listened to music, allowing users to carry many albums on the go. Although other MP3 players were already on the market, they were not packaged as well as the iPod and lacked an intuitive software program like iTunes for transferring music, Tura said.
  4. Innovation rarely has a single author: An idea may start with a single person, but the best products are often refined by multiple teams. Tura cited the character of Superman, which was initially developed by two men for a comic book, but grew into a global brand as others contributed their input.
  5. Innovation shouldn’t be the aim: “If you go in and say, ‘I’m really going to make something innovative,’ it won’t happen,” Tura said. The best ideas come in response to practical problems. For example, Tura said, a hotel wine bar wanted to sell expensive vintages to business travelers, but the potential customers feared the bottles would break in their luggage on their flights home. The bar hired a firm to design an inflatable shopping bag to carry the bottles safely.
  6. Innovation isn’t always good, and what’s good is not always innovative: Some innovation has resulted in unanticipated failure. Coca-Cola introduced its New Coke product in April 1985, replacing its long-standing original formula. The soft drink was a disaster on the market and led to a backlash from consumers, forcing the soda giant to return to its classic recipe only months later. Coca-Cola already had a satisfying product and didn’t need to invent something new, Tura said.
  7. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum: The best innovation comes in response to long-standing problems facing society. “It doesn’t happen without quite a lot of social input driving it,” Tura said.