Innovation is About Exploring 1,000 Things Worth Throwing Away

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Our post yesterday on the advice Steve Jobs gave Nike CEO Mark Parker received tons of tweets and emails from all of you loyal readers ready to follow the advice of staying simple and purging complexity. Before you jump in, there is something important we forgot to mention in that post: in order to edit down you need to take a lot of little bets and create a large spectrum of products to choose from. You have to create products in order to throw them away.

Nike is a perfect example of how expansion of their product line and the editing down process helped them build their empire. Nike started back in 1964 when Coach Boweman, after deciding that his team needed better running shoes, went out to his workshop and poured rubber into the family waffle iron. This was how Nike's famous "waffle shoe" was born.

Their first product was track running shoes. Since then, Nike has expanded into making jerseys, shorts, base layers and apparel for track and field, baseball, ice hockey, tennis, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, tennis, american football, golf, cycling, volleyball, wrestling, cheerleading, aquatic activities, auto racing and cricket. They have also recently developed the Nike+ app that monitors a runner's performance and links up with an iPod or iPhone as well as a Nike+ sport band which helps people record mileage ran, calories lost and keep time.

Nike has created thousands of products that it can now edit. Steve Jobs had 350 products he could edit down to 10. In order to edit down you need to do a lot of exploration, take lots of calculated risks and generate a lot of products first. Just think of how many little bets Amazon took. AJ Kessler says it best in his post:

Nobody produces all masterpieces. In a medium like photography, creating great work means producing a lot of work.

Nike is amazingly efficient at exploring new products and editing them down. FastCompany has a great quote from Parker about this process:

He repeats a mantra I hear early and often: Edit and amplify. "I'm trying to amplify the innovation agenda further, and short-list the things that will make the biggest difference. That's an art and a science."
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Danny (ZURB) says

Interesting to read about the flip side of this argument. This is a pretty important point - the fact that you need to explore and iterate before reaching a great solution. In the process you throw away tons of products and solutions your explore. A lot of people tend to forget this when thinking about simplicity. People try to stay as minimalist and simple as possible from the start. They forget that Apple had 350 products they could edit down from. Nike had thousands of products they can edit down from. Great point! Thanks for the article.