Fallacies of Innovation

by Akbar Jaffer
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fallacies of innovation

Fallacies of Innovation

fallacies of innovation

Innovation is what’s driving the growth in our global economy. Innovation is also a hot topic, a trend, a corporate strategy, a company’s philosophy, an ingredient of a team’s DNA, a marketing buzz word, and much more. On a more serious note, innovation is how organizations differentiate themselves in an otherwise commoditized marketplace.  However, in the race to innovate mistakes are being made. Some mistakes are big and others are huge. Some cost a company its brand and others just hundreds of millions of dollars. It seems that innovation requires a lot of strategic planning for it to become successful. In this article we examine fallacies of innovation. Many companies have and are falling into one or more of these traps.

I give two examples. First one was Google Glass. It was released during the time of the ‘Starbucks Bathroom Webcam’ fiasco. When people were scared about their invasion of privacy, spy cams, and agencies being able to turn on and control your laptop camera remotely, releasing a video camera mounted on your face and connected to Social Media was not a good business decision. As another example, in becoming an epic failure, sometimes these innovations end up inadvertently giving away million dollar ideas to competitors for free. The Nintendo NES was designed on the failed Mattel’s innovative ideas minus its shortcomings. The result: instant success.

Here are fallacies of innovation.

Solution Without a Problem

Solutions for which a problem does not exist. Many solutions are products which do not solve a real problem. Marketers call it market demand, or lack thereof.  You hear this regularly on Shark Tank, “This is a great solution looking for a problem.” Ford’s Edsel, Crystal Pepsi, straight to DVD movies, $45,000 machine that applies sun screen on you, are just some of the examples.

Too Many Solutions for a Problem

Problems for which too many and too similar solutions already exist. If multiple solutions already exist for a problem, then your product is not likely to be considered an innovation. What’s most commonly called a “me too” product. In order to become successful among it’s peers, serious differentiators must exist in the solution. After the iPod, Microsoft launched the Zune, its portable media player in 2006. The market was dominated by the iPod by then, and Zune’s software was only Windows-friendly. Zune’s revenues decreased by 54% in 2008.

Too Much Product

Products that solve too many problems make the solution too complex for adoption into the market. You might be tempted to create a product that solves too many problems at once. It might be that a different solution for each small problem already exists in the market, but making a product that addresses all those problems into a single solution is mostly likely not innovation. Furthermore, it will make your product too complex to use, too complex to maintain, and too expensive to grow. Have you heard of Microsoft Windows Vista?

Too Much Technology and Not Good Enough User Experience

Solutions that focus too much on technology and not much on user experience tend to fail. Released in 2004, the Eyetop wearable DVD player had glasses with LCD screen that you could watch movies on. But how could you walk and finish your movie at the same time? The device also caused serious motion sickness.  Smart Watches before Apple Watch had map apps on them but Apple introduced the “tapping on the hand” feature so users don’t have to walk around with their faces in their watches.

One-hit Wonders

Many brands have succeeded with their key product(s), but have failed at trying something else. Colgate has always been perceived as a toothpaste brand. But did you know that they started their line of frozen dinners? Is it about subject matter expertise? Harley-Davidson is having a tough time breaking into the Electric motorcycle market. Is it about customer demographics and segmentation?

Incomplete Solutions

Incomplete products mean customers are frustrated because the product doesn’t solve the entire problem. User experience is sub-optimal because users must acquire and use multiple products to finish the job. Incomplete products usually represent short-sightedness of the product developer. Electric cars received a lot of attention when they first came out, but there weren’t enough charging stations. The maximum distance they could travel was lesser than the average commute for most people. Most digital music players before iPod failed because they didn’t factor in the acquisition of content piece. iTunes made iPod successful.


Successful innovations must follow a systematic approach. There should be sufficient pre-marketing, market validation, and serious market research before hand. The one solution that satisfies all characteristics of an innovative product – satisfies customers, solves their problems completely and becomes a great success.  Checkout The 50 Worst Fails In Tech History.

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