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Influence Without World-Changing Innovation

Innovating from within can be just as important as creating something entirely new.

Take Samsung. The South Korean electronics and appliance maker is second only to Apple in sales of smart phones and, in the words of an article that in today’s New York Times, it believes that customers know what they want, rather than Apple’s (or Steve Jobs’s) philosophy of instead telling them what they want.

The Steve Jobs way is now growing old-fashioned, perhaps – it was more in keeping with an earlier generation when people were more given to hero worship. Today’s society prefers the notion of working together for a common good. This is an idea that my colleague Michael R. Drew, in his book Pendulum, calls the prevailing view during a “We” cycle (where we are now), when society prefers small actions and thinking of others to telling others what to do (which is more aligned with an earlier generation’s frame of mind, or a “Me” cycle).

Still, even though he passed away during the upswing of our current can’t-we-all-get-along social cycle, few people in modern industrial design or electronics have been as worshipped (and sometimes reviled) as the late visionary leader of Apple. Under Steve Jobs and his closely monitored design and engineering team Apple brought us astoundingly beautiful devices that became and remain objects of envy, even veneration, among their users.

But rather than designing something beautiful and expecting people to accept it, Samsung studies the market, and trusts in understanding people in the marketplace. The Times article quotes one of Samsung’s executives: “We get most of our ideas from the market. The market is a driver, so we don’t intend to drive the market in a certain direction,” said this executive Kim Hyun-suk, an executive vice president at Samsung. The company invests more in research than Apple does, and works hard to understand the trends, and to make sure that its reading of them is correct.

This isn’t to deny that Apple isn’t an innovator on many fronts – but as the biggest, it’s in a position to be attacked. And in insisting it knows best, Apple may be underestimating the knowledge of what the consumer actually wants.

For writers, this is something to consider. You may be hindered in thinking that what you have to say isn’t entirely original. The thing is, your perspective on your field can certainly be original, and you may have an understanding of how things work that others haven’t thought of. This makes your opinion valuable.

You don’t have to create a new market – you can shape the market you’re part of through your writing. You can lead through understanding not necessarily through innovation.

This is important. And just as Samsung spends something like $10.5 billion on research and development, and employs a total of 60,000 people in its 34 research centers around the world, you can do your own research and understand your market and trends through your platform.  By engaging with your audience, you’ll be better able to know what moves it, and to determine how your reading of its needs aligns with your reading of the market.

It’s important to consider how people think, and to respond to that. People actually know more than you might be aware of, and you’ll be better prepared to lead and serve them through your writing when you consider this.

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  • Anonymous

    I’ve never liked Apple’s “we will tell you what you want” approach. Not one bit. I’m following Samsung and secretly cheering them on :) Pride comes before the fall…I think this may apply here. Thanks for the insights, Bob!