The theme of my conference is very easy. No innovation, no life. No innovation, no future. We all belong to planet Earth, and we are all born by a mother. And if the child cannot innovate, the child cannot grow. We have to innovate from the day we are born. We have to innovate from the day we are born.
Then we get education. And then we lose a lot of creativity, because education formats us. We enter into a frame. And the more we frame kids through religion, through education, the more children are slowly slowly losing their innovative spirit, their creativity, and they become formatted and just normal people. That’s why very many artists say, “I want to find the creativity of the child again.”
So innovation, creativity, at the end of the day is more powerful than knowledge. Knowledge is so easy for anybody to get. Of course you have to study, you have to learn. But knowledge is there whenever you want. With the new technology, with all the universities, knowledge is for everybody here.
And where is innovation? Where is creativity? Innovation and creativity is above knowledge. That is what you put on top of knowledge. And thank God, innovation and creativity people normally cannot learn. That gives a huge advantage to the ones who are innovative. If everybody could learn creativity, if everybody could learn innovation, we would have to invent something more, or different, to make the difference between the people who have learned something and the people who are innovative.
So innovation, creativity, is definitely more powerful, is much stronger, than knowledge. And today, especially in today’s environment where we have so much competition, where speed is so important, we need, we definitely need, to always think different. In my company, we have a very easy rule: whatever we do, whatever, in any field, we always try to be the first and/or to be unique, and/or to be different. And whatever the project is, we have to put the three conditions, and the project leader or the guy who brings the idea has to answer those three questions.
If he says, “Yes, we will be the first, yes we’ll be unique, yes we’ll be different,” it’s finished. There is no budget anymore. Unlimited budget. No restriction. He can go ahead. Because whenever you are the first and different and unique, you cannot be wrong. You will win. And these three commands are the commands of my company. Of course we make watches, but we don’t care about watches. We especially don’t care because nobody buys a watch to read what time it is.
I hope nobody in this room has bought a watch exceeding fifty Swiss francs, because if he has done it, then it’s a total irrationality. It’s a total stupidity, somehow, considering how much money it’s worth. Because as soon as you go above fifty Swiss francs, you are totally irrational, because the best you can buy at fifty Swiss francs is a Swatch watch, which is a Swiss watch, and nothing can beat fifty Swiss francs. Nobody can make a better quality than those fifty Swiss francs.
So we have innovated. Knowing this, we said we have to invent something different. We have to make watches that are no more watches. We have to produce watches that you don’t need for timekeeping. Because everybody, whatever the price of the watch he will buy is, he will look at what time it is on his iPhone. Or we look on the computer. Or we look on the car. Or wherever. So we invented a new way to wear a watch. And in order to bring this new way, with a little provocation, we made a watch that was black (okay), with a black dial (alright), with black dots (alright), and with black hands.
So when the watchmaker master saw it, he said, “Mr. Biver, I have been in this business 45 years. If you expect me to produce watches like that, I will retire,” because he was 66 years old and I had asked him to stay longer. In France, it would have been impossible to ask this. I don’t know if there are some French guys here, but they know how impossible it would have been.
And I said to him, “No, this is our future. Our future is to innovate and to get rid of the necessity of a watch to show what time it is.” That’s why I want to make it black, black, black, black. It’s like if you look at Big Ben in London, imagine the dial is black, the hands are black, the dots are black. There would be so many accidents because people would just try to find out what time it is.
And the Swiss watch industry has done this huge exercise by innovating conceptually. It’s an absolutely new innovation. The Swiss guys who developed the traditional watchmaking art 400 years ago, they would wake up from their tomb or grounds, and they would hit us to have done what we have done to them. But in those days, the innovation was precisely to make an instrument that would show you what time it is. Today that’s not an innovation [anymore]. The innovation is that we have changed the use of the watch. The watch has become a communicating tool, has become a dream, an emotion, whatever. But not a rational product [anymore] to show what time it is now.
This concept is our only way of thinking. [Like] I said before, whatever we do, we must always answer the three commands: Are we the first? Are we unique? Are we different? If yes, we go ahead. So creativity and innovation is a way of thinking. And in order to make people become innovative, we have created in our company an atmosphere that brings people to be innovative. And the most important atmosphere is that you must permit people to [make] mistakes. If you give a bonus for every mistake, then people make mistakes. But they make mistakes with a huge pleasure, because they get additional pay for every mistake. And when you ask people to do a lot of mistakes, then people become very active and they start to trust themselves.
The problem is in many companies, people are afraid to be active. They are afraid to take initiative. They are afraid to innovate. Because innovation brings uncertainty. When you innovate, you never know. Innovation is like vision. It’s not reality. The reality, you have to make it through, later. And that, to bring people, to take risks, to be active, you can only bring them to that stage if you are capable of forgiving mistakes. And how can you show that you forgive mistakes? You give a little bonus for every mistake. And I promise you if you do that… Little bonus. 100 to 1,000 Swiss francs for a mistake. If it’s a very big mistake, a big bonus. Small mistake, small bonus.
So you see, it’s also a very innovative way of bringing creativity out of everybody. Because finally, we were all innovative, we were all creative, when we were two years old, and three years old, and four years old, and five years old. It’s only later that we enter into a system and we enter into education. And then slowly, slowly, we lose our creativity. Then we are ready to become a soldier, and we are ready to work, and then we need new rules. Like the French, we only need to work 35 hours, then everybody’s happy.
But that’s not the reality. The reality is we need this creativity in our blood, in our heart, in our brain, in our body. And then suddenly we realize that we don’t work anymore. That we are just playing, because children, when they play, they are creative and they never think they work. And when somebody plays, time flies. And nobody will require six or five hours per day. If people work with creativity, if people work free, they can work and work and work. They even don’t need Saturday and Sundays, because when you are enjoying, you don’t want to stop. I don’t say that we should do like these Korean guys who like the games on the Internet so much that he died because he worked so much he forgot to eat and suddenly he was dead. Only a Korean can do that. A normal guy would have stopped to go and eat or drink, but I admire these Korean people. I wish I had some in the company. We would need 30% less Swiss. One Korean, three Swiss.
So innovation, creativity, is the future for every company. Is the future for every human being. We should really never forget this. It’s our own personal future. If we repeat, if we do like the others, what’s the sense? And to finish my presentation, I want to tell you a little story. A story that you can understand easily. Many years ago in Japan, the Japanese discovered soccer (or football in Europe), and they played football. And to be gentle, FIFA said, “Okay, you Japanese guys. We’re going to give you the football world cup in Japan and Korea.”
When we heard that, we said wow, in four or five years football will become popular in Japan. At that time, I was on the board of Omega, a watch brand. And my director in Japan said to me, “We should take a Japanese guy as an ambassador for football.”
I said, “Are you crazy, Bruce? They don’t know how to play. The French eventually. The Italians for sure. The Brazilians for sure. But not a Japanese guy.”
He said, “Yeah, but in Japan people care about the Japanese, not about the Brazilians.”
I said, “Okay, maybe in Japan. Let’s see.” So I went to Japan one day and he took advantage of my presence to go to the stadium and watch these guys. Before it started, eleven Japanese on one side with yellow t‑shirts, eleven Japanese on the other side with blue shirts, and in the middle three referees in black shirts. So it’s eleven plus eleven plus three, twenty-five guys. All twenty-five, the same height. All twenty-five, same hair. All twenty-five, same legs.
I said, “My goodness. Can you tell me where’s your guy you want as an ambassador?”
And he said, “Wait, wait.” Wait ’til I see the number. Then he said, “Ah, it’s number 13.”
I said, “Bruce, goddamn. How will anybody recognize him?”
“No, the Japanese know his face.”
So these twenty-five guys played football, and I hardly never saw this guy. So at the end of the game, I said, “Finished. I don’t want.”
And he said, “No, please please please. You don’t understand. Again, you think Swiss, but we are here in Japan. You must think like the Japanese.”
“Okay, you know what? I’ll take him if he paints his hair Ferrari red.”
And Bruce looked at me. His name is Bruce Bailey. He said, “What?”
“Yes, he can paint his hair in Ferrari red.”
“But you know what, that’s not so crazy.”
So we talked with the manager of this football player, and the manager said, “Yes. I thnk he can do that.”
So from that day on, he painted his hair in red, and when you were watching a football game, you only saw him. You wouldn’t see the others. And we took him as an ambassador. He even became a good player. And because he had red hair, he was transferred to Genoa, to an Italian club called Sampdoria, and he was the first well-known Japanese player. And he became known because he was just different, he was unique, and he was the only one.
So we had our three commands, to be the first, to be unique, and to be different. Just because he had his hair painted in Ferrari red. End of the story. That shows you that is how we are all going to survive. We must be the first, and/or different, and/or unique. Ideally all three together.
And that’s innovation. That’s creativity. And now you start to understand it is more powerful than knowledge. Much more. Much more. It’s above knowledge. So knowledge is our base, and on top of this base we have to build innovation, creativity.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is one minute and twenty-nine left for me to speak. I prefer to keep this one minute and twenty-five now for questions, because I don’t know what to tell you anymore. Thank you.
This presentation at the Lift Conference video archive, and its description [Wayback].