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.

Further Reference

This pre­sen­ta­tion at the Lift Conference video archive, and its descrip­tion [Wayback].