Be quick to lead, or follow

Speakers at the ix2005 IT business conference identify the ingredients for business leaders to be innovative, and urge those who cannot lead to be flexible.

Delegates at the opening day of iX2005 earlier this week put forward a coherent message that touched consistently on one subject--innovation, and a company's need to stay innovative.

Industry heavyweights such as keynote speaker and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, shared their experiences in reaping the benefits of both taking the lead and being a swift market follower.

According to Mike Hawley, MIT Media Lab's director of special projects, focus and adaptation are important strategies for innovation. This encompasses listening to customer feedback, spotting ideas and acting on them, he added.

Making reference to prominent personalities such as six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, Hawley pointed out four key ingredients to being successful--passion, teamwork, dignity and brains.

"Every time I designed something, Steve (Jobs) would come along and say
'Let's sell it'."

Steve Wozniak, co-founder, Apple Computer

"It's about (being) smart, discipline, having the right team… and you need to be emotionally involved in what you do," he said.

Passion was also the backbone of Wozniak's success in the days leading up to the invention of Apple's Macintosh computer.

Growing up with his electrical engineer father, Wozniak said his curiosity made him eager to learn and dabble in gadgets. He also developed a desire to give others more than they expect, and to build systems using the least number of components.

Although he and Apple's other co-founder and current CEO Steve Jobs, shared the same interests, the latter displayed passion of a slightly different nature.

"Every time I designed something, Steve would come along and say 'Let's sell it'," Wozniak chuckled.

Winning followers
Companies that do not take the lead in innovation may not necessarily lose out, but they must adopt a mindset to improve and make things better for their customers, said Tang Kwai Leng, general manager of ST Logitrack.

Championing the fast-follower strategy, Tang pointed out that not every company can afford to be a technology leader in innovation.

"You don't really have to do a lot of research and development, but the clever (use) of technology can also bring you a long way," she said.

ST Logitrack, which develops and markets RFID (radio frequency identification) products, adopted the fast-follower approach by rolling out applications for businesses in various areas such as inventory and supply chain management, and security.

However, Tang said that being a fast follower does have its challenges, as others can quickly join in the fray and claim a share of the pie. Beyond the issue of patents and copyrights, companies have to innovate by continuously seeking to "improve products and services" in order to maintain their lead, she cautioned.