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Innovation Trainwreck: The Building of the Pontiac Aztek...

The company I work for - DAXKO - is holding a pretty cool innovation contest.  $10,000 to the team member or team that builds the best mobile application that expands the functionality of our software products.

Nice right?  I agree.  When David Gray, our CEO, announced the contest, my first thought was "that'sAztek pretty cool".  My second thought was, "I wonder what decisions people are going to make regarding forming teams as they try to innovate?".

It's not that I'm a cynic.  It's just that I know that if you get a team of more than 2, maybe 3 people in most circumstances, innovation dies.  Committees suck.  I spent two years of my life trying to create IP out of raw research via reports and presentations at IBM global, and while that was a great experience I would do again, I can tell you that creative thinking gets bastardized any time 4 or more people are huddled around a laptop trying to create IP. 

Need convincing? I was walking out to my car last night, saw the ugliest car in the world - the Pontiac Aztek - and tweeted the following out:

"kris_dunn: Hey, did you happen to see the ugliest car in the world? http://twitpic.com/1kr2ze" (that picture shown to the right of this post)...

To which friend of the Capitalist and HR Tech rock star Steve Boese tweeted back the following:

"SteveBoese: @kris_dunn There is a pretty interesting backstory to that car - some of it is re-told here - http://bit.ly/bDoWVy"

Lesson number one from that exchange: If you think you can't get career and professional value out of twitter, you're shallow.  I was basically being a smart a#$ at the end of a day and got a great link back that gave me a lesson on innovation.

Lesson number two, direct from the link that Steve shared: If you allow creative thought to be influenced in committees or allow too many people to have input, you're going to end up with a product that sucks.  Bet on that.  Here's more on how the Pontiac Aztek was developed from Coding Horror, via the story/link that Steve shared to me via twitter:

"You don't do good software design by committee. You do it best by having a dictator. From the user's point of view, you must have a coherent design philosophy, and I don't see how that could come about from open source software. The person who's done it best is Steve Jobs, and he's well-known for being a tyrant.

In the mid-1990s, then-General Motors Corp. Chairman John G. Smale decided to bring the world's biggest automaker a dose of the give-the-people-what-they-want ethic that had animated Smale's old company, Procter & Gamble Co. And what the people wanted was sexy, edgy and a bit off-key; in short, a head-turner. General Motors' culture took over from there. Design would be by committee, the focus groups extensive. And production would have to stick to a tight budget, with all that sex appeal packed onto an existing minivan platform. The result rolled off the assembly line in 2000: the Pontiac Aztek, considered by many to be one of the ugliest cars produced in decades and a flop from Day One."

You knew they were hosed the minute you read that design would be by committee.  You think Steve Jobs allows everyone to have input on the design of Apple's NextGen product?  Nope.  He'll lock it down, make a couple of people responsible, and trust the best design professionals in the world to come up with something fresh, then protect the concept as it moves through the production phase.  Let's just say that GM ain't Apple when it comes to protecting the spirit of innovation:

"The Aztek represented all that is wrong with GM's design process, that official said.  Then came production, the executive said. The penny-pinchers demanded that costs be kept low by putting the concept car on an existing minivan platform. That destroyed the original proportions and produced the vehicle's bizarre, pushed-up back end. But the designers kept telling themselves it was good enough. "By the time it was done, it came out as this horrible, least-common-denominator vehicle where everyone said, 'How could you put that on the road?'" the official said.

Sales never reached the 30,000 level needed to make money on the Aztek, so it abruptly went out of production last year. The tongue-in-cheek hosts of National Public Radio's "Car Talk" named it the ugliest car of 2005. "It looks the way Montezuma's revenge feels," one listener quipped."

Innovation.  Remember the Aztek the next time you're tempted to take a great, fresh idea and let people with no spirit of innovation hack away at the concept. 

Protect the IP that comes out of your most talented individual's head.  You'll be happy you did.

Comments

Account Deleted

"A Camel is a Horse designed by a committee".

Steve Boese

Thanks for the mention - the Aztek is a classic example of including just about every suggestion into the final design. Knowing what ideas are bad or silly is as important as understanding which ones are good.

I wonder though, have any of your colleagues complained to you about dissing their ride yet?

Chris

...wonder if they opted for the camping package!!

חברה לייצור ריהוט משרדי

Aztek is a car that is offered that by the General Motors. The car has the finest interiors and it comes with a great package.

Charles

looks like a great car

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