HP TouchPad Guru Phil McKinney Lays Down “7 Immutable Laws Of Innovation”; Do They Apply to HP?

Today, top HP-er Phil McKinney took to his blog to lay down the “7 immutable laws of innovation–follow them or risk the consequences.” Did HP follow the laws?


Phil McKinney is the president and CTO of HP’s personal systems group, the group that oversaw the TouchPad’s creation and the group the company just said it will be spinning off from HP and possibly selling. He’s behind HP’s strategy to control both the software and hardware of its smartphones and tablets–a strategy that has paid off well for Apple, but a strategy HP CEO Leo Apotheker said he was no longer committed to.

Today, McKinney took to his personal blog to lay down the “7 immutable laws of innovation–follow them or risk the consequences,” a guide to his thoughts on the ins-and-outs of innovation–how innovation works and how it thrives. “I have the scars from the school of hard knocks to validate that these are the set of laws that are critical for innovation success,” McKinney writes. “If you violate any one of them, the consequences can be disastrous.” In the context of HP’s axing of the TouchPad, however, it’s hard not to read the “immutable laws of innovation” in a larger context–to read between the lines, and figure out which of these hard-learned rules HP overlooked.

McKinney begins with his “law of leadership,” a law that says everyone at the executive level must be committed to innovation for innovation to succeed. “Leadership means talking-the-talk AND walking-the-walk,” he writes. Did McKinney face this problem at HP? In the company’s recent earnings call, it became quite apparent that the company was less committed to the TouchPad’s unified-software-hardware approach, pulling the plug on the hardware end after only a month on the market. “How much time does the executive team as a group and individually spend working on innovation?” McKinney asks. “Listening to status reports from others doesn’t count.” 

Other important laws, McKinney writes, are the laws of resources and patience–especially applicable in HP’s circumstance. As he points out, innovation not only takes a commitment to resources (people, money, equipment), it also takes a serious commitment to time. Given that HP axed the TouchPad after only weeks on the market, it’s hard to see how HP committed either enough resources or time for innovation, according to McKinney’s rulebook. “The organization must take the long view on innovation and avoid the temptation and resist the pressure for short-term adjustments,” he argues. That’s a sentiment he echoed to me only a few months ago, when he stressed that despite the iPad’s success, “we’re still in the top of the first inning.”

“The law of process,” is yet another applicable rule for HP. McKinney argues that in order for innovation to succeed, a process must be set up that works “within their organization and culture.” That means “establishing and tracking a set of metrics that measures the success and areas of improvement within the innovation program.” The metrics that Apotheker and CFO Catherine Lesjak made clear during the recent earnings call were surrounding sales figures, short-term milestones that the TouchPad did not hit. The one simple metric determined an entire program’s success (or failure, in this instance).

The other laws (the law of BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, and the laws of culture and execution) are clearly relevant here as well. But it’s difficult to relate them to HP or McKinney’s feelings about HP without postulating too much.


What do you think of McKinney’s rules of innovation? Agree? Disagree? Did HP follow or not follow them?

Read more of McKinney’s rules on his blog

[Image: Flickr user Diffendale]

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.