Is Your Product Too Amazingly Awesome?

Is your Product out-of-this-world awesome? It might be a bad thing.

When I first heard about Taco Copter, I thought it was the most awesomely amazing thing there was. I mean, what’s better than burritos, delivered to your door, when you want them, by drone. The fact that this triggered both the city of San Francisco and the FAA to ban drones is another awesome thing since we all know that if you are doing something that pisses people off, you are probably doing something disruptive. BTW, did you know that since then, you can get pizza, beer, champagne, Coke, and sushi all delivered by drone somewhere in the world? Man, if only the FAA would lighten up a bit. What a bunch of ShouldWes.

But I digress. Here is my question. Is your product amazingly awesome, like the Taco Copter, or is it incredibly useful, like Uber? Where on the spectrum does it fit? If it’s closer to Taco Copter, you may have an issue. If it’s closer to Uber, then you are probably more likely to have a winner on your hands. Here’s what I mean.

While the cutting-edge stuff is a lot of fun to play with and seems truly innovative and disruptive, it is rarely that. As I mentioned in my book Innovation Mastery, one of the traps many people within organizations fall into is the “get to play with fun, cool toys trap.” Let’s say that they want to be more “innovative.” They find a few people within the organization they’d like to reward for their good work or interesting ideas and create an “innovation lab.” Maybe they take a small office somewhere else, or designate a corner of another office area, and move those people in there. They give them titles like “Director of Innovation” on a small budget and let them spend their days coming up with new product and service ideas, while all along never expecting to actually fund and launch anything the group might come up with. Next, the people on this team, under the guise of “research,” go out and fill up their offices with cool toys. They use the excuse that the cool toys help them think of new and innovative solutions when most likely they are just there to make their co-workers jealous (Wow, you get to play with all these cool toys, and I have to run TPS Reports all day) and to pass the time. Do they ever really develop anything innovative? Sometimes. But in my experience, just filling your office with cool toys just doesn’t cut it. Sure, buy a drone, by all means, if you are thinking about how a drone will fit into your company’s supply chain, product mix, or another current or expanded process. If owning or playing with the drone triggers some new ideas for a product or service, great, but if you are just using it to spy on your neighbor sunbathing in the backyard, you might want to re-think.

But I digress again. VR, AR, drones, wearables, and IoT devices are neat, cool, and interesting new technologies. But let me ask you something: Are today’s unicorns based on any of those? Very, very few. No, today’s unicorns, and for the foreseeable future, are more business model than specific technology oriented. They go beyond the technology to disrupt the entire supply and demand chain of entire industries (like Uber and Airbnb) or build a better way of doing something someone else has already built (SnapChat, WeWork, Dropbox).

So, let’s review. If you are truly interested in building your next billion-dollar business, stay away from the cool new toys, no matter how awesome they may be. Focus instead on the business model. Focus on how things fit together. Look at the big trends sweeping the world. Look at the hot button pain points in the world, and come up with elegant solutions covering most or all bases. Take a market that is suffering, and make their lives much better. That’s innovation.