Scott Anthony recently wrote a post for the Harvard Business Review on disruptive innovation.
Turning a flaw into a feature is a time honored tradition in the software industry. “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature” dates back at least to the mid-’80s. Turning bugs into features is also a critical skill of the would-be disruptive innovator.
The heart of disruptive innovation is the intentional trade-off — sacrificing raw performance in the name of simplicity, convenience, or affordability. The trick is finding the customer who embraces this trade-off because they consider existing solutions to be too expensive or too complicated.
In other words, disruption is almost always a strategic choice. Companies with a would-be disruption on their hands have to carefully consider their target customer.
Consider, for example, what would have happened if Procter & Gamble had tried to sell its Swiffer line of quick cleaning products to people obsessed with deep cleaning. Those consumers would have looked at a product designed to clean without sweating as inferior. In fact, Swiffer initially struggled in markets like Italy where consumers considered sweating an integral part of the cleaning process!
Instead, P&G sought customers who embraced simplicity, because often their choice wasn’t a deep clean or a quick clean, it was a quick clean or no clean at all. The “flaw” of light cleaning was a “feature” to the simplicity seekers.
Featuring the flaw often requires looking at markets in new ways and finding seemingly invisible customers. Some simple questions to use to guide thinking include:
- What are the competitive alternatives to your idea?
- Where are you better?
- Where are you worse?
- Are there people who consider existing alternatives out of reach?
- Are there circumstances where using existing alternatives problematic?
The next time someone tells you to a fix a potential flaw in your idea, flip the problem on its head by seeking a customer that would consider the flaw a feature. Does this spark any ideas for your marketing? Is there something about your product or service that you can turn into a great feature?