Three takeaways from Elmar Mock’s speech to the Chamber

Elmar Mock, professional inventor and co-founder of Swatch, sees innovating as “making the impossible possible.” In a speech that wove together personal anecdote and aptly illustrated theories, the Swiss creator delighted the audience that had gathered alongside the third edition of the Strategic Forum on Innovative Manufacturing, held May 10 by the Chamber and Investissement Québec.

Mr. Mock started by addressing the legendary Swatch watch. His most famous invention was created in the 1970s, at a time when people had given up on watchmaking. He used humour to explain how the Swatch watch strayed from its initial objective. He pointed out that the best ideas often result from a series of mistakes. He and his partners originally wanted to make a watch that could be produced for $10; the Swatch cost $6. They wanted to make five units at the outset; they ended up making 700 million. “We were pretty far off the mark,” he said, pointing to the irony.

Once the Swatch watch they created surpassed their expectations, Mr. Mock and his partners wanted to mass market an affordable Swiss watch that people could change daily, like a fashion accessory. They rethought how watches were made, reducing the number of components by half and designing it to be built using automation.

At age 32, Elmar Mock left the company, founding his firm Creaholic shortly thereafter. He went on to become a serial inventor, working on over 750 projects in the course of his career.

Here are three things to remember from his speech to the Chamber.

Innovation is the key

Elmar Mock has always had a passion for innovation. Leaving Swatch took him to the edge of the abyss and forced him to make smart decisions.

He believes there are two different approaches available to creators and inventors. First there is the innovation approach: taking risks and accepting the possibility of failure. “You take the plunge and hope that wings will sprout as you fall,” he says.

Then there is the renovation approach, which is less progressive, less creative, and more knowledge based, but “if you climb a ladder on a sinking ship, you will sink all the same,” he explains. For Elmar Mock, innovation means thinking of one’s invention or creation as version 2, 3 or 4 of new, advanced models. Renovation means constantly improving on the same model, for example version 1.1, 1.2 or 1.3.

According to Mr. Mock, innovation is the right approach. Innovative manufacturers don’t need to relocate or automate production to obtain the best margins; they need to innovate instead. Mr. Mock believes that manufacturers need to offer the market something it doesn’t know it needs. He uses the fax, the iPhone and the Swatch as examples of inventions that weren’t sought by the market at the time and that were big successes.

Flirting with the market

Mr. Mock noted that with the Swatch watch, he and his partners were targeting the mass market with an affordable Swiss watch. He uses an apt comparison for this market: a romantic pursuit. “When you offer something to the market, it will always want more and to pay less. Just like in love,” he says. You need to keep studying the market, anticipating it and innovating.

The animal kingdom as a reference

Elmar Mock likes to use references to the animal kingdom to illustrate his points. In animals, the instinct for self-preservation manifests itself in two ways. The first is survival: to eat and not be eaten. The second is procreation. He sees innovation as procreation.

The Swatch co-founder uses the image of the frog and the bird to illustrate our relationship to innovation today. The frog is like mobile apps proliferating on our phones. The frog lays a thousand eggs so that two will survive. The bird takes care of its eggs. It doesn’t hunt or fly with them. It hatches them and then feeds the young. It keeps hunting and reproduction separate. Mr. Mock believes that this is the key to success.

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