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New innovations - Prioritize convenience over polarisation

Many innovations start with a group of believers (pioneers or early adopters), who embrace and defend the new idea, product, service or technology almost like a religion. This often leads to heated debates and a strong polarisation between those believing that the innovation will transform the future and those who argue that the current mainstream way of doing is still better and that the new evolution will never become adopted by the masses.
Often those confrontations are the result of the willingness of early adopters to overlook certain inconveniences (like bugs, instabilities, usability issues…​) associated with the innovation, i.e. they are willing to trade convenience for the experience of being disruptive and innovative. Other people, who do not share the same level of enthusiasm about the new evolution, can become frustrated due to the lack of criticism the early adopters show for the innovation.

Obviously as these innovations mature, the kinks are worked out, meaning they become more accessible and easier to use for the general public. This is the point at which an innovation becomes mainstream and is no longer just for early adopters. Only when the inconveniences and challenges associated with an innovation are solved, it can truly become widely adopted and appreciated by everyone. The early adopters play therefore a vital role, through their adoption and feedback so that innovations can be improved and become accessible to a wider audience.

So clearly early adopters and evangelists play are critical in the innovation process, but it is not all roses and sunshine. Their strong conviction and persuasion power (by often hiding - deliberately or not - the disadvantages of the new innovation) bears the risk of creating bubbles and buzzes, which lead to an incorrect usage of the innovation, unrealistic financial valuations of companies active in the concerned domain and precious resources which are misallocated by management, absolutely wanting to follow the buzz.

Examples of such innovations, which have become (in my opinion) too hyped are numerous, e.g.

  • Open-source: although already widely adopted, open-source is not a solution for everyone. Obviously open-source software with large communities (like e.g. Linux) is extremely valuable, but open sourcing software, where the community is limited to just one company doing all development and maintenance might not always be the smartest move.

  • Cloud computing: the benefits of cloud computing are enormous, but it is again not the best solution for every company and every use case. For specific use cases or companies, it might still be cheaper or more efficient to invest in bare-metal servers. The same applies for "Serverless computing", which is promoted as the next step after cloud computing and containerization. Again the added-value of this technology can be enormous, but once again it is not the best solution for every problem. As with any technology, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with it, and it is up to specialists (not up to management who wants to use the latest technology, just to be innovative) to determine the right solution for each case.

  • Mobility as a Service (MaaS): on the one-hand it is obvious that people want to have more flexibility in their mobility and want to use the fastest (and ideally most sustainable) transportation means at any moment, but on the other hand people like routine, have all kinds of constraints (e.g. bringing children to school before going to work, appointment over lunch hour, preferring privacy and convenience of own car…​) and might not be willing to pay for this service (as added-value is not considered large enough compared to the cost). Definitely there is a need for this solution, but it might not be as widespread as promoted by the mobility tech players.

  • Modern economical and business models, like the gig economy, the sharing economy and the "As-a-service" (subscription) business model: clearly those models will continue to grow as it allows an increased flexibility in workforce and consumption, but assuming that everyone and everything will evolve to those models is a bridge-too-far. A too creative usage of those models can lead to questionable platforms, like

    • In the sharing space: Simply (rent your own private pool by the hour), Spacefy (renting spaces and locations to creative people), SpaceiShare (space sharing)…​

    • In the subscription model space: London Sock Company (monthly sock subscription), Avocado Monthly (monthly avocado delivery), Cloudpaper (toilet paper subscription), CitizenM (hotel room as a service)…​

  • ESG movement and Cleantech companies: in recent years, all tech companies have launched several initiatives to improve their sustainability, usually in the form of initiatives to reduce their ecological footprint. Via all kind of software tools the ecological footprint of the company, customers and/or employees is measured and actions are proposed to improve the footprint. As the measurement techniques are often based on a lot of assumptions, the results can be easily manipulated, leading to impressive result announcements, but in reality minor change. This shows how over-hyped trends can sometimes move us away from the initial objective. This can lead to a bad reputation of the sector as a whole, in which a lot of companies with impressive innovations (which do make a difference) operate.

  • DeFi and Blockchain: also here it is a "with us" or "against us" story with little room for nuance. Clearly those recent technologies are very promising and can potentially revolutionize our world, but they are still too immature to deliver a good and easy user experience and to be adopted by the masses. Clearly a lot of those hurdles will be overcome in the coming years, but some limitations are also inherent to the technology and the model itself. It remains questionable if the advantages associated to DeFi and blockchain outweigh those associated limitations and disadvantages, in order to be really adopted by the masses. Cfr. my blog "Blockchain - Behind the hype" (https://bankloch.blogspot.com/2020/02/blockchain-beyond-hype.html)

  • AI/ML: a similar story for AI/ML. The success of AI tools like ChatGPT and Dall-E shows the enormous potential of this, but in my use cases using AI/ML is likely to be overkill, as the model is well-known and can easily be put in a simple rule-based algorithm. However in use cases, where those rules are too complex or impossible to describe (as they are often based on experience/feeling), AI/ML can be enormously valuable. Cfr. my blog "AI in Financial Services - A buzzword that is here to stay!" (https://bankloch.blogspot.com/2020/09/ai-in-financial-services-buzzword-that.html)

  • Low-code and No-code: idem story. Low-code and No-code are a valuable addition to standard coding, but it is unlikely they will replace traditional coding any-time soon. For specific use cases, it can be a perfect solution or at least a great accelerator to deliver software solutions quickly and efficiently. Cfr. my blog "Low- and No-code platforms - Will IT developers soon be out of a job?" (https://bankloch.blogspot.com/2020/07/low-and-no-code-platforms-will-it.html)

  • …​

All of those innovations are fantastic and have enormous potential, but they are not miracle solutions, they often lack maturity and they are not better in all situations (i.e. for all use cases). When looking at above examples, you can identify three main reasons, why well-marketed new (hyped) innovations tend to lead to bubbles and destruction of value in certain usages:

  • Generalisation: a new innovation has its domains where the advantages surpass the inconveniences, but typically these domains are much smaller than portraited. When the innovation matures (i.e. resolves some of its inconveniences), these domains can expand, but even then a full widespread usage (for all uses cases) is going to be unlikely.

  • Lack of business model: many innovations are super-interesting and might interest a large audience as long as they remain free. Often the business added-value is however not large enough for customers to actually pay for it. This means the innovation can achieve large adoption, but as soon as the company behind it needs to become profitable (meaning charging money), it becomes problematic.

  • Losing track of the customer’s needs: often people tends to lose the customer’s needs when working with exciting new technological evolutions. A technology should always remain a means to an end and not an end in itself. E.g. blockchain or AI/ML should be technologies which are under the hood and which are used to solve certain technological issues, but should not be an objective in itself. Therefore companies should always start with the question "What does the customer want?" and only then pose the question "Which technology can I use best to solve this?" (and not the other way around).

Therefore it is my belief, that innovations should not be oversold and that it is good to be skeptical about new evolutions. Often in an innovative company, it is however considered as unproductive and old-fashioned to be skeptical about new innovations, but instead you are forced to be positive and embrace any new innovations.
In my opinion however, an innovative company is a company that identifies new innovations, but also looks at them in-depth and in a critical way to identify all strengths and weaknesses and determine if and where the new innovation can give (the most) added-value. By identifying the weaknesses of new innovations, the optimal usage can best be identified and opportunities can be unlocked (typically by providing a solution to solve or avoid these weaknesses).

In fact a new innovation will only become truly a success when it results in an increased convenience compared to existing products, services or technologies. This increased convenience is something that should directly improve the life of the customer, i.e. normally this is something that checks one or more of those boxes:

  • Cheaper

  • Faster

  • Better quality

  • Better service

  • Better user experience in the acquisition

Often innovations are however sold by emphasizing improvements, which indirectly improve the life of the customer, i.e. qualities where the impact is not immediately visible or not directly impacting the customer, e.g.

  • More sustainable

  • Healthier

  • More ecological

  • Better privacy

  • Less lock-in or dependency (e.g. due to decentralization)

  • …​

Although such indirect improvements might be sufficient and convincing for early adopters, the masses want direct advantages. The main focus of every innovative company should be therefore to transform its innovation in such a way that there is also at least one  directconvenience improvement associated with their innovation.

Check out all my blogs on https://bankloch.blogspot.com/

 

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Joris Lochy

Joris Lochy

Product Management Consultant | Co-founder

Capilever

Member since

05 Apr 2017

Location

Brussels

Blog posts

91

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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Innovation in Financial Services

A discussion of trends in innovation management within financial institutions, and the key processes, technology and cultural shifts driving innovation.


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