Top Innovation Sins and How to Avoid Them
In this article, we will start with 1) an introduction to innovation and continue then with 2) a list of innovation sins.
INTRODUCTION TO INNOVATION
If you can take anything away from Moore’s law and the rate of growth in computers, it would seem that some innovation is perpetual. With the speed of developing technologies now reaching breakneck speeds, it seems as though humanity is now entering the true age of innovation and productivity. Never before has the world witnessed so many new and different products and technologies as the ones that are available at this very moment.
While technology itself will continue to grow at an extraordinary rate, the way and speed at which humans provide new and useful innovation does not have the same luxury. The innovation created by people is different to that which is created by machines. People are limited by their cognition, their circumstances and their creativity.
Innovators today are subject to what many refer to as the sins of innovation. Despite the most earnest intentions, people and companies are excellent at creating the own biggest barriers to productivity, creativity and innovation all on their own. Whether they are too quick to give up or standing to close to see the real problem, the issues that many innovators face do not lie within the technology itself. The problems are part of the way technology is approached.
The following article contains a list of the top sins that anyone could commit while trying to create and build new technologies, services and products. From spending too much time on useless products to making a problem more complicated than it needs to be, here are the top innovation sins that you can commit and how to avoid them.
Innovation Sin #1: GIVING UP TOO EARLY
Whether in life or in innovation, people often feel like they are traveling down a fruitless path that is about to come to an end. The path to creation is often filled with blockades, twists, turns and forks in the road. With so many choices to make and obstacles to overcome, it sometimes feels like it would be much easier simply to start from the beginning and find a different path.
Sometimes you can have an idea or create a product that seems like an amazing opportunity upon conception. But when you begin to sort out the details, problems arise at every opportunity. It is easy to believe that these problems exist because the idea is ridden with faults and is not worth pursuing.
Other times, everything seems to be going well but for some reason, your business is just not seeing the results you want. Whether there has been a change in the consumer market or you find yourself with more competition, there are plenty of highly successful products that fall off the face of the Earth.
The key to being a great business is to recognize perceived failure as an opportunity to do better and try again. Instead of giving up in a difficult climate, taking a successful product or brand and adapting it to a new market can turn a difficult situation around.
From technology companies to websites to retail chains, the market is full of examples of companies that were wildly successful before dropping off the map. Motorola’s mobile devices are the perfect example of a company that gave up too early.
The Motorola Razr dominated the mobile phone markets from 2004 onwards. The only Americans who did not own at least one Razr were ones who were still saving their money for a new one. The Razr sold 50 million units between its launch in 2004 and summer in 2006.
Customers marveled at how thin the phone was. They loved the slight but functional design and the Razr was the signal the market needed that customers wanted smaller phones. However, the user interface was not innovative and it did not offer any new features that similar phones didn’t have.
When Apple came along with the iPhone, Motorola had the opportunity to step up its game and take its much loved design into the smart phone market. However, instead of putting in the work to maintain its huge market share, Motorola continued to release slightly varied versions of its signature. Motorola left a gap in the market that Apple greedily snapped up while still leaving space for Samsung, Sony and even Nokia.
It’s true that the MotoQ signaled a return of Motorola’s popularity. However, instead of indulging in Android, Motorola turned to Window’s failing attempt at a mobile operating system rather than what the market wanted.
Innovation Sin #2: CREATING PRODUCTS THE CUSTOMER DOESN’T NEED
Market research and planning is an essential part of creating an innovative product. It provides valuable insight into what the customer both wants and needs. There is little point in creating a product that you consider to be innovative if it is never adopted by your market.
Almost every company struggles with the how much influence market research and planning should have on the innovation of its products. Some companies have taken a Steve Jobs approach and insisted that customers have no idea what they want until you show it to them.
This approach is useful in some cases but it cannot be universally applied to every scenario. Not only is it bad for innovation and productivity, it is bad for the brand. The kind of brand power that Apple has been able to manifest for itself in the last 15 years is a rare luxury afforded only to certain super brands. The damage that this thinking can do is astounding, even within popular consumer technology. The well-documented struggles that Microsoft has faced to force its Xbox One to compete with Sony’s PlayStation 4 is the perfect example of this.
There is a fine balance between showing customers what they never knew they needed and handing them something they never needed at all. The latest incarnation of Microsoft’s Xbox console was innovative and there is little evidence to dispute about this fact. However, the hardcore gamer market that Microsoft has previously served so well had no interest in the mandatory Kinect device. When they learned that the Kinect was always on in some form, the customers were more than happy to let Microsoft know how unhappy they were.
The mandatory Kinect device was included in the bundle to encourage customers to take advantage of the voice and motion activated functions that were built into the new Xbox. These functions are certainly innovative. The new Kinect was so well designed that the company would demonstrate its capabilities by printing images of faces captured by the Kinect with a 3D printer.
The Kinect was also to signal a key turn from Microsoft’s hardcore gamer customer base towards a more family-oriented entertainment console. However, instead of picking up millions of new customers with its innovative technology, Microsoft alienated its main clientele who then kicked up such a storm that before they knew it, most of the world believed that Microsoft was spying on them through the Kinect that was always listening.
The backlash was so intense that Microsoft ended up removing the technology that they had spent years building. Even after Microsoft announced the responsive changes, the Xbox One’s sales suffered significantly at launch. In this case, showing their customers something they never knew they wanted drove a huge portion of their customers straight into Sony’s waiting arms. Sony, on the other hand, had created the innovations that their customers wanted. They made certain that their product was ready for a heavy influx of former Xbox customers.
Innovation Sin #3: LETTING BUREAUCRACY STAND IN THE WAY OF PROGRESS
Rules and bureaucracy are not designed to inherently stand in the way of progress – but the way some people use them can make them do just that. Organizations that continue to operate with a top-down management strategy often stifle innovation because there is no space for ideas to be heard. When bureaucracy remains interested in control rather than change, progress takes a back seat.
In these cases, employees have to go through red tape and several committees to express ideas for innovative change. The processes in place to control quality end up taking up a huge amount of time. When the path to innovation has so many roadblocks, it is hard to maximize innovation. If an idea has to move through several committees to be considered, it can take weeks to move from the “projected start time” to the actual start time.
Preventing bureaucracy is the battle cry of many of today’s tech startups. Silicon Valley’s biggest, brightest and most disruptive startups have worked hard to alleviate the problems inherent in the top down management style.
Setting up open campuses and using collaborative online tools to create projects are more than just side effects of the explosive technology industry. They are symptoms of a bigger movement within modern business.
Today’s tech companies do not offer huge benefits to the brightest minds only to make them suffer archaic boardroom battles of seniority and due process. They work to create open and collaborative environments that encourage employees to take ownership of their ideas and projects.
When people feel as though their work makes a difference to the success of the company, they are more likely to work harder, remain satisfied and put forward innovative ideas designed to propel the company forward.
Innovation Sin #4: BEING TOO ANALYTICAL
Having an analytical mind is a huge asset in business. It’s a huge benefit in assessing the value of ideas and figuring out how to turn dreams into a reality. However, you can be to analytical. Just like in your personal life, overanalyzing a business deal can kill innovation before it even starts.
When your analytical schemes cause innovation to grind to a halt, you are suffering from analysis paralysis. When a bare bones idea is accompanied by dozens of charts, predictions and measurements, it is hard for anyone to see past the vast amount of numbers and into the original idea. All of a sudden, the project is paralyzed because the team has lost sight of the goals.
Too much data stifles creativity. While multi-tasking is a great way to boost productivity, you cannot be creative and analytical at the same time. These methods of thinking are very different from each other and they need to be kept separate. As a rule, companies should always avoid mixing the creative process with the analytical process.
Innovation Sin #5: NOT BEING EMOTIONAL ENOUGH
When a customer buys into your product or service, they are not buying into the functionality of the product itself. People do not buy plastic food containers with no spill features because it is a great function. Someone who invests in this product usually does it for a personal and emotional reason. For example, they might choose that functionality over a basic container because they can then begin to bring their lunch to work and finally work on losing weight and having the body they always wanted.
The key to selling functionality is making it emotionally appealing. This is why advertisements work so well. People want to buy an experience and not just a thing, no matter how innovative it is. Creating an emotional narrative behind the function of your product creates brand identity and allows customers to identify with the brand.
Even though you might be very proud of the innovative materials or processes that went into your product, as a whole, your customers won’t have that same amount of pride. In fact, much of your market may find it irrelevant or confusing.
Thinking emotionally when you are creating a product will help drive innovation. When you think about the things in your life that a product might improve, it will be easier to find innovative ways to create, manufacture and sell the product.
A great example of an emotional product is the recent trends towards sustainable, green and eco-friendly products. The main coffee drinking customer base does not purchase Fair Trade Coffee because of the way it tastes or because it comes from a specific farm. Instead, the customers think about the farmers and growers that benefit from Fair Trade. They think about how the farmers earn a fair wage and can work in better conditions when they sell their coffee with Fair Trade organizations.
This experience makes people feel as though they are doing their part to make the world a better place just by purchasing coffee with the Fair Trade label. That feel good experience is the reason that customers will pay more money for a fair, sustainable product than they will for a similar product that does not offer that same personal experience.
Innovation Sin #6: OVERCOMPLICATING PRODUCTS
Overcomplicating your product is another innovation sin. This is a sin for two reasons. The first is that thinking too much about the details will blur the bigger picture. The second reason that it is a sin is because it will often turn customers off from your product.
Businesses working towards innovation need to focus on functionality but functionality does not mean making the new product that industry’s version of a Swiss Army knife. The majority of your customers won’t care if your tooth brush has Bluetooth. Customers in the larger market want a product that fits their needs but does not require a science degree to use.
Sometimes innovation comes from the search to make a product work better rather than forcing it to do more work. If you focus on doing one or two things really well and becoming the leader innovation in these specialist processes, then your product will become well known for what it does. Not only is it easier to increase your productivity and innovation but you can increase your brand power this way as well.
Fast-food giant McDonald’s is a good example of a company whose product suffered when they overcomplicated it. The McDonald’s menu expanded from 69 items to 121 items between 2004 and 2014. That equates to a 75% increase in the menu size in a short period of time.
McDonald’s added confusing options like the McDouble alongside the standard Double Cheeseburger. The price difference between the two sandwiches was significant; yet the only difference between the products was a slice of cheese.
The company’s Chief Operating Officer admitted that it had overcomplicated its menu by adding too many new products at a pace its stores could not keep up with. Not only that, but the new menu was no longer in line with the brand. This resulted in a loss of relevance and revenue for the fast food giant.
Although McDonald’s is far from any existential trouble, if such a stable and profitable brand can suffer from an overcomplicated product, less visible products can certainly suffer as well.
Innovation may come naturally to computer hardware but it is not as straightforward for people who do not run on algorithms. There are many sins that can get in the way of creativity, productivity and innovation. While it is comforting to know that even the most successful and established brands can fall prey to these innovation sins, it is also important to learn from their mistakes.
Learning how to avoid these top innovation sins will not just save you from creating mistakes with future products. It can help you salvage your current ideas as well. Overcoming roadblocks to progress has little to do with the roadblock itself but rather how you approach it.