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How do You Innovate in a Recession? Ask Flip, Amazon, Apple and IBM.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on January 22, 2009

Innovating during this severe recession is a topic on a lot of people’s minds today, including IDEO’s Tim Brown. The need for innovation in this particular recession is particular acute because we need structural change in our economic, business and civic institutions, as well as rejuvenation of our overall growth.

For guidance in what it takes to innovate in a recession, we can look at four companies that are prospering and growing at this very moment when nearly every corporation around the globe is in trouble.

Take Pure Digital, which makes the fast-selling Flip camcorder. I use the first generation Flip and will take it with me to Davos next week. It is cheap, easy to use and easy to plug in. It is taking market share away from the more expensive and harder to use Sony and Panasonic videocams. Flip is a case of pure disruptive innovation that works in a recession.

Ditto for the Kindle, the electronic reader from Amazon. By “pulling an iPod” and coming out with a simple, not expensive product that easily connects to the web and allows you manage your reading material, Amazon’s Kindle is selling through the recession.

Apple we know. It just announced surprising profit gains in the face of a deep consumer pullback.

IBM just did the same. It’s new “Smart Planet” ads point to the fact that IBM is in the new zeitgeist, offering tools and advice on making your company, city, country, family digitally smarter. That means saving costs and increasing productivity. Profits are up in the weakest economy since the Depression.

Disruptive innovation that is inexpensive, easy to use and in great demand that makes life better, more manageable and less costly is the kind of innovation you do in a recession. That’s true for government as well as business.

Reader Comments

soumitri varadarajan

January 22, 2009 10:59 PM

Good on you Bruce for being so 'topical'. First the transformation design post and now this recession post.

This aligns with a line I have been taking (this is a plug for my blog - so stop reading here!) in 2009 in trying to answer another question - 'can I use the recession to re-engage with my former students'. I asked the question here ( and here ( Some students (a fair few I have to admit) responded.

My strategy is now to use this dialogue to push the students towards 'social innovation' by helping them to imagine a social innovation venture they can start up and run. Now these are in a large measure students who went to design school to become furniture designers or product designers. At university they would (may?) have attended all those sustainability and social design classes and events - but never took it seriously.

Fingers crossed for now. I am keen to hear from others who may be doing similar things within their communities.


February 13, 2009 3:38 PM

interesting observations but would be useful to understand HOW they keep doing this

Hildegard Gerst

February 22, 2011 7:27 PM

I really enjoyed your post. It was very interesting.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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