Mind to Market

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Curse of Knowledge

A recent article in the New York Times entitled "Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike" by Janet Rae-Dupree really misses its mark. Instead of innovation, what Ms. Rae-Dupree seems to be referring to is market acceptance which is another subject entirely. Granted, the commercial world really has little value for innovation for innovation's sake, but describing a product as not being innovative because engineers can't describe it properly to consumers is just missing the whole concept of innovation.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan of cool but useless technology, but an innovative idea is not necessarily a useful one. That being said, often times a "useless" technology will morph into something more useful and even commercial over time. Examples: too numerous to list.

Both collaboration between stakeholders and feed-back from the market are indispensable aids in guiding product development. But they can stop innovation dead in its tracks. The constant need for buy in from stakeholders and the market while the idea is developing will stymie its development and can reduce it to a merely incremental one.

An ever present danger in developing innovative technology solutions is that you become so entrenched with the solution that you can no longer talk about it in layman's terms. You think you are describing it in terms an eighth grader can understand when in fact most Ph.D.'s in the field think you're speaking in a language somewhere between ancient Etruscan and Klingon.

But this is actually a good thing as far as being innovative. If everyone understood your "innovative" product upon hearing about it for the first time how innovative could it really be? Either you've got your message down perfectly or it's just too obvious.

But Ms. Rae-Dupree's premise is that if laymen can't understand the product, even in the development stage that it is anti-innovative and you are definitely off track. Again, maybe a quick check with a definition would help. Real innovation happens in committees? If this were true the U.S. government would be the most innovative organization around.

Certainly one impediment to non-linear thinking is that you'll be met with a lot of skepticism and blank looks. Take this as a compliment; disruptive ideas are by their very nature unobvious and people are naturally resistant to ideas they don't understand. In fact they can be down right hostile.

There is no doubt that market acceptance is the goal for a commercial product whether innovative or not. But if you are developing a truly innovative product, a disruptive product that will introduce a new paradigm to the market, then don't expect everyone to understand it. The trick is to maintain just enough connection to the market to be real without corrupting the creative process.

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