Poorer, Slower, Dumber

Innovation has become synonymous with better, faster, smarter. However, there’s proof of products and solutions that have deliberately decided to go the other way. In today’s fast-paced world that wants everything to be better than the previous version, teams can be misled to feel that that’s what they’re supposed to design. They feel that the existing player in the market has set the bar, and that they, through innovation, must deliver a superior solution.

But what if you can be better by being worse – intentionally?

The premise is that you can be inferior to your competitor in the aspect they’ve decided to focus on as a trade-off for focusing elsewhere.

Dollar Shave Club is a perfect example of that. It’s a subscription-based company that sends you shaving products by mail. It was founded in 2011 by Michael Dubin and Mark Levine as a result of their frustration with expensive razors. Dollar Shave Club went viral later in 2012 with their Youtube video, which has been viewed more than 25 million times as of this writing.

Dollar Shave Club promised blades that “get the job done” and are not as fancy as the others in the market (nudge, nudge Gillette). As a result, they priced their products at a much lower price point. Their messaging further reinforced their belief that razor blades are unnecessarily overpriced. An important point to be made here is that their razors are technologically less advanced for a reason. They didn’t just decide to be cheaper quality for the sake of it. Furthermore, they intentionally decided to focus their attention elsewhere with their products. So it was kind of a trade off. Instead of focusing on product performance, they decided to focus on their profit model (subscription), channel (online + delivery) and brand (the anti-Gillette).

In July of 2016, Dollar Shave Club was acquired for $1 billion by Unilever.

Dollar Shave Club weren’t the only ones that went this route.

Nintendo was another.

Back in 2006, the console war was raging. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo were preparing to release their respective video gaming consoles: The Playstation 3, The Xbox 360 and The Wii. While Sony and Microsoft were pushing the limits in terms of performance (graphics, speed etc.), Nintendo went a completely different route. Instead of focusing on the performance of the graphics, it focused on how customers engaged with the console. They debuted The Wii with a motion sensor controller that completely changed the landscape of video games. And since it didn’t have ridiculously expensive internals, the Wii retailed at $250 compared to Playstation 3’s $499 and Xbox 360’s $299.

As of 2012 (Nintendo discontinued production of the Wii in 2013), The Wii leads its competition with more than a 101 million units sold globally.

Innovation isn’t about being better, faster or smarter. Innovation is about being different for a reason. It’s about trading off an aspect of your solution in order to focus elsewhere. Sometimes, that might mean building a lower performing product.

Till next time,
Abdulmohsen T. Alduwaisan

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