Interesting analysis by Brad Tuttle at Time. What it boils down to is that Ron Johnson tried too hard to turn JC Penney into Apple. He didn’t take the time to understand why the existing customers shopped, and how they could attract others. He simply implemented what sounded like good ideas.
Ron Johnson suffered the fate of what Jared Spool calls “Genius Design”:
Teams employing Genius Design don’t look beyond their own experience to inform their decisions. However, the Genius Design style looks to the vast previous experience of the team members.
There has to be solid research experience in the past to base the current decisions on. Just having designed the functionality before doesn’t count, unless the research also went with it.
Call it the fate of too much experience – from the outside, it looks like Ron Johnson was asked by JC Penney to do what he did at Target and Apple. He went in with a lens and tried to repeat it, but there isn’t a formula to retail success. Each store is different.