In a complex world, innovation shifts from creating and adding to simplifying and removing.
I once had a chat with a frustrated content management salesman. He believed in simplicity but had great difficulty selling it.
"Customers may need simplicity but they always end up buying complexity. If we don't have all these extra fancy features, they simply won't buy."
"Feature / function innovation has long been the mainstay of technology companies and the primary sort key of competition for many of us," John Dragoon, Chief Marketing Officer for Novell, wrote as 2009 drew to a close. "And while many technology companies continue to innovate in this area at astounding rates, customers aren't demanding the type of innovation they can't consume, use or integrate into their business.
In 2009 Dragoon had noticed a new trend emerge. This involved "Innovation around the technology business model. Innovation around how technology is developed, sold, supported, integrated and used. Innovation that helps them manage the cost, complexity and risk inherent in their IT environment. Innovation that helps them leverage and extend what they have. Innovation that delivers a more compelling customer experience."
This is indeed a new type of innovation and it will only grow with the rise of cloud computing and web services. When customers are buying software or other products as a service, they are much less likely to buy complexity. One of the reasons feature 'arms races' arose was because customers wanted to 'future proof' their purchases They might not need a particular feature right now but were worried that they might need it in 12 months time. Such a reason is not nearly as relevant once you're buying a service; you can simply add to the service if you need to.
The world has become very cluttered and there is now a lot of value in simplifying things for the customer. I have often seen these simplicity tipping points. For example, blogging exploded when blogging software became so simple even a writer could use it. There are just so many opportunities out there today to make the customer's life easier; and the rewards are very, very substantial.
Simplicity these days is often a faster and much more adaptive process. As Dom Sagolla, one of the creators of Twitter, states, "The simpler you make your idea, the easier it is... to understand the market and get it out there".
In a rapidly changing world simple is more flexible, simple is more adaptive. However, larger organizations, in particular, find it very difficult to be adaptive. That's one of the primary reasons why their websites go through big lumbering redesigns every couple of years. The organization can handle a redesign because that's a project and they are structured to handle projects.
What the organization actually needs is a process of continuous improvement of top tasks. It needs to regularly review and remove. It is often the process of taking away that truly gets to the essence of simplicity. The new innovation is about taking away and stripping down. It is not about focusing on the lifecycle of the product, but rather focusing on the journey of the customer as they go about their daily tasks.
Innovation does not have to be some flashy new thing. It can also be some pared down old thing.