The curse of invention and how to avoid it
The curse of invention and how to avoid it

The curse of invention and how to avoid it

Part IV of the Innovation in action series

The marathon of product innovation is unforgiving. You make it to the very end only to find that the world doesn’t want your shiny new thing. This is the curse of an invention.

Invention happens way too much. It’s often a breakthrough technology like satellite phones or self-balancing electric vehicles. They’re full of breakthrough technology, but deeply missing a problem to solve.

The Segway doesn’t classify as an innovation because it demanded too much of the user. It couldn’t go upstairs; it didn’t have refueling stations in the places you needed them. Looking rather weird when riding the device didn’t help either.

In the context of innovation – invention is a curse. A curse that has afflicted products like Tivo, Google Glass, Iridium, and the Segway.

Innovation is something that is a radical new way of doing something that creates a material improvement in a user’s life.

It survives the treacherous launch process, comes to market and sticks around to make a real difference. Things like the electricity, jumbo jets, the iPhone, etc.

How can we ensure our new product succeeds? How do we avoid being the next Segway or Google Glass?

The secret formula for innovation is simple to understand and very hard to do. A new product must offer enormous benefits for little effort from the user.

A new product must require a relatively small change in behavior and it must provide tremendous improvements to a user’s life. This thinking is the origin of 10x effect.

Make a new product ten times better than the current solution, and you’ll have a smash hit on your hands.

The great news is we can take the 10x thinking that originated from HBR’s John T. Gourville work and combine it with the work of Stanford’s BJ Fogg.

And it’s not only product usage that is affected by the 10x paradigm. It’s the story of the product too. The human context to the work of both Fogg and Gourville is that we hate change. In fact, we love what we already have. And we’re skeptical and even cynical towards imagining the value of something new.

Before a user can test the actual usefulness of a product, we have the tricky problem of their bias towards the status quo. Unless the product appears to offer enormous value without too much hassle, potential customers just won’t care about that new thing. They won’t even try it.

Here’re the factors you can use to evaluate whether you have an invention or innovation.

Amount of Behavior Change Required (you want less of these)

  • Time – How long does the product take to use?
  • Money – How much does it costs to purchase, use and maintain?
  • Effort – How much exertion does the product take to use?
  • Brain Cycles – How much does the user need to think and be alert to sue?
  • Social Deviance – How much does the product make the user look socially awkward?
  • My Routine – How much does the user need to vary their routine to use?

User Benefits (you want more of these)

  • More personal time – give the user back 30 minutes in their day
  • Freedom – help the user break free of constraints
  • Higher performance –  help the user take their results to the next level
  • Fulfillment – give the user a deep sense of accomplishment
  • Pleasure – answer the call of deep human needs
  • Hope – give the user the anticipation of something good happening
  • Social Acceptance – give the user a sense of belonging

There’s no exact science to giving values and weighting this formula. The ultimate truth, as always, will be testing prototypes with customers.

If you objectively set out to create a product that gives more than it asks of it users, then you will avoid the curse of invention and harvest the rewards of creating something good for the world.

I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions. Just email [email protected].


About the author

Mike is the Head of Innovation at QUALITANCE. He’s passionate about emerging technologies and experience design. Over his award-winning career, he’s worked on big innovation and marketing projects for Nike, Levi’s, Xbox, GE and many others.