Monday, December 05, 2005

Michael Kors isn't a Detroit car executive. Maybe he should be.

Like Rhett Butler rushing to join a losing army, I started watching Martha Stewart's Apprentice only after it was cancelled. The contestants are dull but Martha wears nice clothes and her daughter has interesting, Postcards-From-the-Edge body language so it's not all bad. Last week's challenge: create "an innovative launch display" to promote Buick's Lucerne.

"Innovative." What does that mean to you? To Buick executives, it apparently means "familiar," even "predictable." They awarded the win to a well-done display that looked exactly like every other dealer showroom or car expo you've ever seen. "It took our breath away," cooed one GM judge. That's how big 3 automakers define "Innovative." Remember that the next time Bill Ford looks at you with his teary blue eyes and intones, "Innovation is the compass that will guide this company forward."

What Martha needed -- what Rick Wagoner may need -- is someone with a firmer grasp of the language. Like Michael Kors. Project Runway's most celebrated celebrity judge once kicked out a contestant not for the most hideous design but for one that lacked originality -- a wedding gown, he said, that looked like it was made by a mere "dressmaker," not a designer with vision.

It isn't easy to recognize the potential of a concept when the execution has initially failed. It is, however, an essential skill for people in the business of creating things. And, knowing the actual meaning of words is nice too.

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