The Vital Twist
It’s easy to make long term predictions.
Lots of entrepreneurs can do that.
These are things like driverless cars, the sharing economy, robots in the home, the end of smoking, bionic implants, rising sea levels, or a move away from sweatshops.
They're good guesses, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll run a successful business.
What takes real genius is to make a long term prediction and pair it with a good short term prediction: about what people want, and how they will behave.
Many of the most successful companies in history weren’t the ones who invented the technology. Instead, they’re the ones who took a new-ish idea, then made one or two vital twists.
We have terms for this.
Some are positive like “Standing on the shoulders of giants”
Others are derogatory, like “Plagiarism” or “Pandering to the lowest common denominator”
Customers don’t care for innovation as a concept, they like the way innovation makes their lives better.
That’s what makes the vital twist successful – reframing an innovation to make it appealing.
MP3 players were around for a long time before the iPod came along – but Apple focused on design, usability and style.
They piggybacked off the existing technology, and added distinctive white headphones to create a fashion statement.
Ride sharing is full of competition, so how did Uber become so dominant?
Their twist was their cashless payment, intuitive app and free treats in the car – making the experience painless and much more pleasant than the traditional taxi.
Netflix weren’t the first to dream up a video streaming service – but they were the first to make original shows that people would rave about, like House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black. That twist prompted many of us to take up the free 30 day trial, leading us to discover the benefits of the technology.
Nestle had pod coffee for years with Dolce Gusto – yet it was the addition of George Clooney and an elegant machine design that transformed the appeal.
The concept was always good, but needed an air of sophistication to spark customer interest.
Electric cars aren’t new – for decades they’ve been invented and blocked by the auto industry. The problem was that they were ugly and limited in how far they could travel on one charge.
Tesla made two vital twists – a better battery, and a stylish design.
Teslas turn heads, and became may people’s dream car. Who dreams about owning a Nissan Leaf?
Renting a room in someone’s house was always a good economical option when travelling – but was full of risk.
Risky for the renter, who knows who you’re staying with?
Risky for the home owner – Who wants a stranger in their house?
AirBNB made the vital twist through their easy to use interface, and personal profiles that eliminate that stranger danger.
The twist was credited to their advisor Marc Andreesen, who suggested that the company guarantee the home owner up to $50,000 worth of damages, so long as they filed a police report.
That gave owners a sense of confidence, whilst also reducing the rate of fraudulent claims.
Sure, it’s easy to cherry-pick examples with 20/20 hindsight.
It’s the principle that’s interesting.
Success comes from spotting a long term opportunity, and pairing it with something our customers want right now.
Imagine their competitors – disgusted at how customers overlooked superior technology in favour of gimmicks.
White earbuds and a click wheel.
Bottles of water and Mentos in the car.
An electric motor that can do 0-100 in 3.2 seconds.
Coloured aluminium coffee pods with generic Italian names.
If the gimmick makes you a household name, is it really a gimmick?
When we’re designing new enterprises, we need to keep in mind that technical superiority or the moral high ground aren’t enough.
Our customers don’t do much research, and they get distracted by shiny things.
It’s not our place to force them into our world, we need to bring our innovation into theirs.
If that feels like pandering, so be it.
Better to pander and stay alive than to be noble and go out of business.
In fact, I’ll go one step further:
If you’re touting a social mission, and refuse to engage with your customer’s wants and needs, you’re doing your cause serious harm.
You waste so much goodwill, burn through grants and investment, and send a negative message into the world – social enterprises can’t cut it.
Our roles in designing new businesses is to take new trends and technology, and find ways to twist them into something appealing.
If we sit on our high horse and expect customers to see things our way, we’ll fizzle out and end up bitter and cynical.
The vital twist will happen
Someone is going to get it very very right with the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Someone is going to make Impact Investing cool.
Someone is going to make a household robot that we all want to own.
Someone is going to integrate virtual reality into daily life.
Someone is going to make an irresistible driverless car.
Someone is going to make healthy food taste better than junk.
Someone is going to persuade most people to work from home.
They won’t do it by asking us to see things from their perspective.
They’ll do it it by empathising with our ambitions, and solving our daily problems.