Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Shifting budgets from advertising to innovation

OK, I don't have a self-driving car and already I'm sick of hearing about them and their potential.  Just like I don't have a virtual reality headset made out of cardboard and an iPhone, but I'm tired of hearing about virtual reality.  The reason I'm tired about hearing about VR and autonomous vehicles is that they are overhyped technologies that don't yet solve important problems.  And this is one of the biggest challenges that innovation faces:  creating shiny new technologies that are interesting but don't solve society's challenges or problems.

We can ask ourselves a few questions about VR and self-driving cars, as examples of overhyped technologies.  The first one is an old one: quo bene?  Who benefits from the constant stream of hype that emerges around Virtual Reality (which isn't even all that new) or autonomous vehicles?  Why, surprise, the hype is being driven primarily by the manufacturers of these technologies.  VR, which as a technology has been around for at least 20 years, has simply repackaged itself for a new audience unaware that VR wasn't able to solve many problems two decades ago, and has simply repackaged itself as a "new" technology released from the mainframes.  Like Google Glass, the overhyped technology that didn't solve a problem and left the wearer looking like a dork, Virtual Reality so far doesn't solve mainstream needs.  Of course there are niche applications for VR, but right now the backers are making a much bigger play - trying to bring VR into the mainstream markets, tying it to iPhones and Androids.  Noticed many people out in the street with the gizmo fixed to their faces?  Even an application like Pokemon Go, which might benefit from this kind of technology, relied on the basic handset, and even it's flash in the pan moment seems to be ending.

This is a big problem for innovation, and why so many corporations distrust innovation as an approach to create new products and services.  Far too often innovation is led astray, to create shiny new technologies or promote technologies that have been on the shelf for a while.  Rather than do the real work of identifying needs and building solutions that solve real world challenges, innovators and technologists often build what they want or desire and try to sell it as a cure-all, a modern snake oil salesman.  This discredits real innovation, which has its basis in needs identification and validation, building solutions that matter and create value for people.  Right now these innovations, like VR and autonomous cars, are packaging technology and a lot of marketing to convince you that you NEED these capabilities.  Will the masses come?  For VR the marketing spend is past and it looks like the answer is: no.  VR has real applications in niche needs and industries, but so far we haven't seen a broad societal need that VR fills effectively. That's also because VR is a technology and not a solution.  We innovators must remember that the availability or discovery of a capability or technology is not an end to itself.  Good innovations must "cross the chasm" in order to get to the larger and more valuable markets.  Google Glass is a great example of a product that caused the early adopters to swoon, and left the early majority cold.

For innovation to add value, you've got to start with customer needs and expectations, what others call the "job to be done".  Then, create new technologies or repackage and repurpose older technologies to provide the benefits, and finally create a solution that provides value, don't simply offer a technology.

There's an adage that marketing and advertising the price you pay for being unremarkable.  I'd say aggressive advertising is the cost you bear for promoting a technology, rather than addressing a problem or need.  What if only a fraction of the money spend on advertising these technologies was spent on need identification and good innovation practice?  The outcomes would be incredible.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:32 AM


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