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Disruptive Innovations: Simple, Not Complex

Posted by Joe Antle on August 27, 2018 11:50 AM EDT
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As with the other key characteristics of disruptive innovations, a common factor that is found in almost all successful disruptive innovations, is.....

...simplicity-and a general lack of complexity and extensive features that make the product or service difficult for the majority of consumers to operate or use properly without heavy and burdensome explanations, instructions or training.

Classic disruptions are often dismissed by incumbent leader firms as not good enough because they are far too simple and not sophisticated enough to meet the needs of the best consumers who may be willing to pay for extensive feature-laden products and services.  As with key products that larger firms buy or wealthier consumers want to have, the incumbent producer of popular solutions, products or services, almos always focuses on the best, and more sophisticated purchasers who represent typically a small percentage of the overall market.  And so for these market leaders the competitive advantage may not be in having a lower cost product or service but in having a product or service that is much more sophisticated and complex and can offer benefits and value to far more users.....but those complexities make the product way too expensive in terms of time and money for the vast majority of potential users who simply need a "job to be done" and time, money and know-how is at a premium that these consumers simply cannot afford, or do not have.

There are many examples.  In my beloved mass media industry of newspapers and television, Craigslist became a very cheap and easy to use way for consumers and small business operators to hire new employees, rent apartpments and buy various and sundry used goods from other consumers. It became a ridiculously poor substitute for complex, feature-right print and online classified section ads.  Craigslist was limited in its abillty to provide a visually sophisticated environment for ad messages, with very few features avaiable for advertisers to use to distinguish their messages.  Much like "Smart Sense" and "AD Sense" text only ads that charged only a "per click fee" for social media and Google, Craigslist defied the conventional wisdom of incumbent media leaders by not being good enough for their best customers, but by being more than good enough for the 80% or more of the marketplace who didnt' value the sophisticated, complex and pricey offerings of the incumbent players, newspapers and national online classified web sites.

Other examples from other industries incluce Uber and Lyft in the ride-sharing world versus private transportation and public transportation providers such as taxi cab companies and buses.  AirBnB versus luxurious and experience-based hotels and resorts.  Personal PCs versus mainframe computers and on and on.  It turns out that saving people time and money, makes a less sophisticated solution more valuable to the many people who have very little of both (time and money).

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