Innovation; Too Much of a Good Thing?

May 6, 2008 by Garrett Smith

Pat Phelan has an interesting post today about innovation and the tendency for most “bleeding edge” technology companies to over-innovate with their offerings, leaving mainstream users light years behind early adopters.

While this is not a short term issue, it is a long term one, since most businesses continue to innovate over time. However success (in financial terms) only comes when a product or service reaches mainstream acceptance (there are a few exceptions of course, however for the most part mainstream is where the money is at). If your company continues to grow and never slows down (or goes back to the basics), eventually you will be caught in a vicious cycle of innovation – a constant pattern of creating cool new things that appeal to a small niche of early adopter, forever leaving behind the mainstream user who thinks your product or service is too complex, abstract or down right unusable.

I myself find that I am launching the same initiatives today, as I tried in 2005, only this time there is actual uptake on them. Sometimes it is tough always being on the bleeding edge, but at the end of the day we all have to keep in mind that most folks are not like us (us as in early adopters, technophiles, geeks, etc).

Therefore mainstream users need a little more time to adapt and hence we should operate our businesses in a manner in which allows for both “bleeding edge” and “mainstream” users to benefit from our product or service. What this means is that we must innovate through simplicity…simple service, that also has advanced “early adopter” features (or uses), yet mimics the “traditional” usage patterns a mainstream users expects. A prime example of advanced simplicity is the Apple iPod. It was bleeding edge enough for

I am not saying this is easy, but for those who can achieve these usability levels will find great success.

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