Friday, August 03, 2012

Innovation - not the middle of the road

I love it when a twitter concept becomes a blog post.  I read an article today that has something to say about innovation, even though the article is really about branding.  The article claims that brands have to serve something.  As Dylan said, you can serve the devil, or you can serve the Lord, but you're gonna serve somebody.  New products and services, if truly innovative, are going to serve somebody.  And, likely, anger some other people.  We have to adjust our thinking as innovators to stop trying to please everyone, and build products and services that service something.

Doctors have a mantra - first do no harm.  Innovators have a mantra - what can we disrupt?  Note the concept of disruption.  To disrupt something, it's likely that someone or something loses.  The status quo is changed, altered or eliminated.  That means the incumbents lost, the existing situation changed.  Sorry if that seems like a zero sum game, but innovation isn't about playing nice.  It's about creating something new that has distinct value over what exists.  That means it introduces change.  Do you think Jobs stayed up nights worrying about the impact iTunes had on Tower Records?

Innovators ask questions like:  is this really new?  Does it really matter?  Will customers care?  Is it better, faster, cheaper than status quo?  What they don't ask is: will everybody be happy?  If everybody is happy, then you don't have an innovation, you have an impossible dream.  I'm relatively certain that there are people, somewhere on the earth, who would object to world peace.  If we can't all agree on a common good for mankind, certainly any new product or service that's innovative will have supporters and detractors.  If we can't satisfy everyone, then we need to create products and services that electrify our most important customers and prospects.

In a tweet today I wrote (tongue in cheek) that innovation isn't about being in the "middle of the road".  The saying in Texas is that the only thing in the middle of the road is yellow lines and roadkill.  Everything else hugs the edges.  Well, perhaps you'll find drunk drivers in the middle, but it's no place I want to be.  Innovation is that way too - you don't get noticed for creating "me too" products that everyone likes. "Me too" products don't garner attention, and every product or service has detractors.  Innovation, by its very nature, thrusts aside existing concepts, products and even perspectives and worldviews.  Why do you think it can be so difficult to do?

Don't fret  - embrace the fact that your ideas won't make everyone happy.  Yes, you may piss off some of your existing customers with your new innovation.  But you may gain more new ones, and your existing customers aren't yours by divine right.  They may choose to leave anyway.  You are entitled to them.  Trying to be safe means you have to become boring.  Embrace the difference.  Embrace the edge.  Your ideas are going to serve somebody - not everybody. 

Or, you can create an interesting idea, and constantly reduce it, remove the rough edges, water it down, shape and mold it, until everyone is happy and no one finds fault.  You'll be left with less than nothing, and everyone will tell you how inconsequential your idea is. My advice - embrace those who matter, expect detractors, understand why people will love, and hate, your idea.  Get a thick skin and stay true to your concepts.  Any truly new idea will attract complainers and critics, just like any truly new technology is indistinguishable from magic

Don't aim for the middle of the road.  Create something really interesting at the edges.  It's not necessarily more safe, but a lot more interesting.  The people who want to pull you to the middle want to simplify your ideas and restrain them.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:17 AM


Blogger CEO Osolind said...

Provocative blog post, Jeffrey. Our response is titled, "Talking trash about the middle of the road and dead armadillos" -- All in good fun.


11:38 AM  

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