Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup, has a reputation, as he puts it, “of some kind of innovation expert.” One problem is Ries is a bit of a Pied Piper, encouraging engineers to challenge their creations, to defend their usefulness. It used to be that the work of making a technical product was a matter of curiosity, i.e., what will happen if I . . . . So you got a light bulb, a car, even a computer. But no longer. Because of Ries we test its usability, then question our findings. We build what Ries calls a minimum viable product (an MVP) and launch it to see how it fares in the real world.
All good moves; but Ries is right. He’s not an innovation expert. True, or disruptive, innovation is not simply new; it provides new value. We need to appreciate this difference: some newbies move products to market faster and/or cheaper (HauteLook, Amazon, iTunes, NetFlix), or with more functionality (Salesforce, join.me, Adobe). These can be simply changes in supply chain management; valuable, yes, but not truely innovative. On the other hand, Amazon was faster and cheaper, but its disruption was to get books and other goods anywhere, anytime. NetFlix was also faster and cheaper but its disruption was to get filmed drama to people on their computers or television screens. The poster child of disruptive innovation, however, did not even bother to deliver faster or cheaper. The iPhone was easy to use but, above all, it made people happy. Jobs knew what he was talking about when he said: “ . . . it’s hard for [consumers] to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”