Should you build "killer" innovative products?

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The inventors go: "Peeps: Let's build a ginormous sweet robot, with surround sound that's off the heezy, a big freakin' TV covering the entire dashboard, and the oh-so-sweet secret sauce: a built-in kitchen."

People put their lives, their bank accounts, their 31423423 all-nighters building that one-killer innovation. And that's too bad: most "killer" innovations won't sell. Instead of building that one-killer innovation, do the radical thing among the "new economy" people:

Just improve something that really, really sucks.

That's it. Here's why:

Killer Innovations Never Happen Overnight

The iPod: a great, killer innovation. But what spearheaded the effort? The 8-track in the 1970s, the Walkman in the 1980s, the CD Players in the 1990s, the mp3 players in the early 2000s. What seems like an overnight innovation success story is actually a gradual ascent to it. The Walkman improved how people could listen to music anywhere; the CD player improved on sound quality -- and so on. Great, killer innovations are nothing but:

They're just improved products.

Nothing fancy. Nothing overkill. People want that. They can't take an overnight leap. It's too much for them. They want gradual steps. (As with everything in life.) And that's what improved products do.

Why a Killer Product Failed, and Others Succeeded

You look at the Segway. A great, killer innovation -- it seemed. Had all the pieces in place to make a great product. But, why aren't people adopting it? It's too radical for them. You're telling them to take one giant leap to Pluto. Instead, notice the recent surge in "mini" cars (e.g. the Mini Cooper)? Automobile companies improved on the typical gas-guzzling car by packaging a sweet ride for consumers who were environmentally-conscious. Simple, sweet, and sexy: Just improve on something that consumers find "sucky."

"But I want to be rich overnight."

But...but...but...unless you win the lottery, it's a long-shot. Why not just follow in the footsteps of those dot-com billionaires? Take some sucky product, and improve the ^^@^ out of it. Google did it with precise search engine results; eBay did it with a convenient, extensive, and wholesome marketplace; MySpace did it with widespread and deep communities. None of those companies created their killer innovations. They all had incumbents; and they clobbered all of 'em by improving on the incumbents' sucky products.

The Innovation Guru States...

Says Michael Treacy of GEN3:
Often, radical business model innovations are too radical for their markets -- that is, customers won't pay for all that invention. Webvan went broke after discovering this, failing to bring in enough from its online grocery customers to support its novel, massive distribution infrastructure.

"What do I do now?"

If you're seeking the next big thing, forget sitting around drumming up your great idea; instead, take baby steps. It takes time. You'll get there. Step-by-sweet-step. In the meantime, here's the rockin' template for ya:

"I will improve on a sucky product."

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Posted on August 03

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