You know them: The PC, the iPhone, the browser. What does it take to develop the next groundbreaking product in the face of the naysayers?
I'm talking about something new here, not a rehash with a slight upgrade. It's always straightforward to look at the existing numbers on a product, tweak some features of the present product and voilà, you have a new product. Frankly, it might make some business sense to tweak an existing product, but real market-busting products that move companies to new heights are of another ilk.
What is a great product? First of all, it's not commonplace. Instead, it's a product that defies straight-line projections from existing products, it accomplishes a task or brings new meaning to heretofore approaches, and it satisfies the user beyond any other existing method. In a few words
really new and useful.
The original IBM PC didn't look much different from other computers at the time, but the IBM brand, the availability of software, and IBM's complete documentation made it a hit.
Given that it's a departure from the existing "groove" that many companies are in, how does this happen?
First and foremost, there has to be a champion pushing for something really new. That often involves personal risk. He or she is the symbol for this product and will bear the brunt of its success or failure. You see, risk can take many forms. It could be monetary, reputation, or adjustment to responsibility. Ideally, it's the head of the organization who leads the charge. For a small company, this is the president. For a larger organization, it's often the head ofa division. It has to be someone who can command resources and withstand the onslaught of naysayers, for which there will be many, both visible and invisible.
Naysayers can cite facts and figures to show the foolishness of the undertaking. They will point to the great expense that should rightfully be going to existing products. They will further explain the excellent engineers that are being wasted on some adventure to parts unknown. Furthermore, they'll indicate that there is no evidence that anyone wants the product. All they see is failure.
Depending on their influence, authority, and yes, their deviousness, the naysayers can sideline an undertaking. The champion must understand who they are and have good counter answers. Even the head of an organization must garner support and convince folks that he knows these risks and has considered them.
The champion often needs to overcome significant obstacles that threaten the project, and even his or her position in the company. Let's face it. Costs will be underestimated by two, three, or even four times. As well, estimated development times will start out rosy, then lengthen by two, three, or even four times.
By its very nature, a significant new product is a whole new world. Even the most clairvoyant people will be wholly amazed at what they didn't realize. This is when the greatest danger of being excised will happen. Again, it's the champion who must recognize what it will take to succeed. Such questions as, "Should I continue or accept defeat?", "Do I have a fallback position?", or "Is it full steam ahead?"
Leadership will be tested and then retested. For as Harriet Beecher Stowe put it:
Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.
For the champions, we can only hope that their judgment is sound.
The original iPhone changed life as we knew it.
Certainly, the arrival of the personal computer was such a product. There have been many others as well, such as the web browser, iPhone type products, etc. The PC is particularly significant because it was brought out by the largest computer supplier and had many detractors both within and outside of IBM. But somehow, it was allowed to continue to market. The rest is history of it transforming the computer/business world and leading to the creative destruction of the existing market. Even legendary computer pioneer, Ken Olsen, stated that there was no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.
Significant new products can change the world
and it's happening now.