Innovation / Mental Block · June 28, 2022

What is innovative about Apple getting rid of computer ports?

Few days back Rohit asked this question on our company’s common group on Google Chat:

This question got me thinking: wow, there must have been someone at Apple, who was the first to think, “Hey, let’s get rid of the LAN port!”

This is significant. It is uncommon for people to have such thoughts.

If you ask people to improve a product, most of them will suggest adding more features to it.

Only rarely does it happen that someone thinks of getting rid of a feature.

Getting rid of features is also a kind of innovation – one that takes more than intelligence to come at.

Go around looking for features you could get rid of. Their number will surprise you!

For example, take a look at this switchboard in my bedroom:

The switchboard in my bedroom

What you see on the far right is a port for a landline phone.

Now, they built my flat in 2019. By then it must have already been a decade since I had seen a landline in anyone’s home.

Virtually no one uses landlines any more, they will still be installing this little port in 2030 – even if it never gets used.

The mindset that resists change

There is a certain bill-of-materials (BOM) in the builder’s office. Someone must have it put it together in the 90s. The landline port was a relevant item back then.

Times have since changed but no one has cared to revise the list.

(there is a slight inaccuracy in the above sentence but we’ll come back to it later)

It’s possible that dozens of clerks and purchase officers might have momentarily considered taking this item off the list. But their immediate next thought might have been, “No, what if someone does have a landline phone and complains about the port for it going missing. I might get in trouble for having taking it off the list.”

“Let’s not rock the boat. And how can I even prove this port is unnecessary? So let it be – it’s not like it’s causing any harm? It doesn’t even cost much.”

This line of thought must be killing thousands of large and small innovations each day.

What does it lead to?

When you have signs of such a mindset in an organisation, you also find other types of innovations missing too.

I could have appreciated and used an optical fiber port in my home and a LAN port in my bedroom. The former could have helped me greatly when I was getting a fiber connection and the latter could have provided a high-speed connection with a NAS.

It should come as no surprise that no one thought of ‘adding’ those to the bill-of-materials either. “Let’s not touch the BOM. It’s sacred.”

It takes more than intelligence to innovate. Many people are intelligent, only few are innovative.

Remember that inaccurate sentence above, let’s correct it now: Times have since changed but no one has cared dared to revise the list.

P.S. What I talked about here is a type of mental block. Know more about them: posts about Mental Blocks on this blog

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Cover Photo by on Unsplash