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

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.

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