As an attendee of the recent 99u conference, I was given the opportunity to take a “field trip” to the offices of Quirky. It was one of my most inspiring days of the year.
Quirky believes that the ability to pursue true invention has been hindered in our country. They note that after World War II, it took 143 days to invent and produce the first jet engine fighter plane; yet, in the late 1980s, it took 3 full years to produce the OXO potato peeler.
Quirky is attempting to reverse this trend. They have pledged to produce three new products every week. They believe that this tremendous self-imposed constraint of time is actually the key to their success. It eliminates overthinking and encourages brave decision-making.
Why should you care about Quirky? Because as the developers of products, we can learn a great deal.
First and foremost, Quirky does not design by committee. Every participant has a role, a voice in the development of a product, but one sole leader is empowered to make the final decision. It is expected that this leader will communicate the “whys” behind the decision to all participants. Who plays this role in your company?
Secondly, Quirky has a straightforward mission statement, and they stick to it. “Make Invention Possible” drives every decision; they only choose partners who help the mission. Is your team truly focused, or do the fire drills of the day distract from the mission?
I haven’t mentioned one remarkable facet of Quirky—all ideas for invention are sourced from outside the company, via online social crowdsourcing. You can visit the Quirky website to submit inventive ideas, and to vote on a variety of aspects of products in development (e.g. the color of a product). And guess what, you’re paid for each contribution you make.
And yet, what does that mean for those of us who were trained to develop products for a living? Can a quality idea truly come from anywhere? Or is it the execution of the idea that truly matters? (Quirky knows what they are doing in hiring talented experts to help bring your doodle to life.
These aren’t easy questions to answer. So, let’s keep an eye on Quirky and see what else we can learn.