A couple days ago we decided that we wanted to share more with Karakoram users about how Karakoram the company (Bryce, Tyler, Russell and Robert) works. So we are going to start doing more blog posts about the inner workings of our small forward thinking company.
This first post should hopefully give you some insight into how we innovate and create. We have built Karakoram on the principle of innovating. We won’t make a product unless it makes the backcountry experience better than before. You will never see a “Me-too” product from us. What fuels our drive to create is the belief that there is always a better way to do something. We are never satisfied with our current solutions- they work for now, but we can always improve.
Some people think an idea is innovation. True innovation is not just a great idea. Tyler found this great Steve Jobs quote that I think really sums up it up:
You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen.
And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.
Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.
And it’s that process that is the magic.
The idea, the struggle to bring the idea to life, the emotional highs and lows, the final product- that is innovation.
For us at Karakoram, innovation is a grueling process that starts with creativity and continues with persistence through the road blocks and walls that you encounter in the design cycle. The hard part with creativity is you can’t force it, or at least that is the way it is for me. I’ll go months or sometimes years without having a true breakthrough. There is something unique for me when inspiration really strikes and the creativity starts flowing. It’s like my mind is overflowing with ideas and I struggle to get them all on paper. Tyler and I have called it binge designing, because we tend to do our best design work in short periods when we’re really motivated. You just have to know that the ideas will eventually come.
A roadblock that I always encounter is the fear of failure. I’ve learned over the years to use this fear to keep ideas in check, but not to inhibit idea creation. You have to be confident that you will learn something meaningful even if the idea doesn’t work exactly like it did in your head. A great example of this is how we developed our first product. We started design in late 2007 and in June of 2009 we had a binding that was light, had an incredibly natural feel in ride mode, and toured well. In October of 2009 we canned the idea and started working on another concept. It was pretty demoralizing to make the decision to start over as we had spent every waking hour outside of our full time jobs for the past two years developing this product.This difficult decision lead to an amazing binge design session in the next weeks. We took the concepts we liked about the original interfaces we just canned and worked them into an old idea that we had tabled because we couldn’t figure out details of the attachment method. The binge design session was two days long. We bashed out ideas for the heel attachment mechanism and by the night of the first design day we had CAD models created and were just starting to machine prototype parts on the home made CNC mill in our garage. We worked into the early morning, slept a little bit and then finished assembling the prototype around 11:30 am. We jumped in the car and drove down to Mt. Rainier National Park as it is the closest place with snow in the Fall here in Washington.
We were at the Paradise parking lot by 3 pm and hiked as fast as we could to the Muir Snowfield. By 4:30 we were taking our first test runs on the first prototype of the Split30. We each took three short laps on the prototype and we were beyond excited with how it performed.We hiked back down as the sun was setting and enjoyed a celebratory beer in the parking lot. After this first test we went back and refined the prototype into what is now the Split30.
Sunset hike down to Paradise after testing the first prototype of new binding and interfaceIt is cliche to say this, but it isn’t failure if you learn from what has happened. Failure gives you the opportunity to ask what went wrong? Why did this happen? How can we be better? If you don’t know what fails, you will never truly know what pushes the envelope. Instead of acting like we wasted two years of our lives we used the failure of our first interface as a stepping stone to what has become a product we can’t keep in stock and the splitboard binding of choice of the likes of Jeremy Jones, Forrest Shearer, Lucas Debari, Temple Cummins, Josh Dirksen, Mitch Toelderer and many other top snowboarders in the world.
It’s just like Steve Jobs said, the idea is just a small part of the magic. The idea is the starting point, but it is the process of bringing the idea to life and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work that is the real innovation. In the end we usually end up with something better than we even imagined.