14: Innovation, Not Invention

Media Thumbnail
  • 0.5
  • 1
  • 1.25
  • 1.5
  • 1.75
  • 2
This is a podcast episode titled, 14: Innovation, Not Invention. The summary for this episode is: If you liked this episode, we bet that you’ll love our blog content. blog.drift.com/#subscribe Subscribe to never miss a post & join the 20,000+ other pros committed to getting better every day. --- There's one thing we always want to do when we build new things: invent them scratch. It's human nature. But it's actually a huge mistake to always try to invent new things. On this week's episode of Seeking Wisdom, we talk about innovation vs. invention, muscle memory, and how some of today's most successful products leverage patterns that we're all already familiar with. Follow David (twitter.com/dcancel) and Dave (twitter.com/davegerhardt) on Twitter. Subscribe on iTunes: bit.ly/SW-Podcast

Speaker 1: In Seeking Wisdom, we're going to talk about one of the biggest mistakes I see inaudible teams make every day, and that's trying to invent when they should be innovating. All right. So we're talking about innovate versus invent. I don't know what our actually title is, but that's what we're talking about right now. Why is this such a big mistake? If I'm going to build a product, I don't want to build something that everybody else already has. I want to build the first thing. I don't want to build something just like you have.

Speaker 2: Wrong.

Speaker 1: Why?

Speaker 2: Yeah. That's the wrong... I think that's exactly what everyone thinks.

Speaker 1: This is my mom. This is my idea. This is the first thing.

Speaker 2: First thing ever. I've discovered this thing and it's a nonsense. You haven't discovered anything, most likely. This is such an important thing. I talked to so many CEOs and founders of technology companies who struggle with this, about this idea. We've struggled with it in the past, this idea of wanting to reinvent things versus just innovating on top of existing patterns and on things that already exist in the world today.

Speaker 1: One of the best examples of this, you shared this here internally, which is this idea of building a chair. Here's how a craftsman would build a chair. They'd look at common chairs. They would look at the way that chairs in offices look versus chairs at your home. Then they would just take out the stuff they don't like, add in the stuff they do like and boom, you have a new chair.

Speaker 2: That's innovation versus invention.

Speaker 1: But yeah, it's exactly the opposite of how most people build things.

Speaker 2: Especially in technology.

Speaker 1: If you gave a developer, say," Hey, build a chair," you wouldn't get something that looks like this chair.

Speaker 2: No. I don't know why we fall in this trap technology, maybe it's because we're not as constrained as that woodworker is by the laws of physics. He's constrained by a chair has to work this way to be balanced.

Speaker 1: That's a good point. Maybe it's because anything is possible.

Speaker 2: Yes.

Speaker 1: You literally can do anything.

Speaker 2: Yeah. When anything is possible, things become really difficult and what you want to do is introduce constraints. The woodworker has constraints in that based on physics, a chair has to work in a certain way. Load has to be distributed across multiple points. It's hard to have a chair with one leg work really well. That's called a pole. Would not be good to sit on.

Speaker 1: Although some people, we want to sit on.

Speaker 2: Some people, yeah. Because we're not constrained in technology and software, we try to invent things. I think we also have this thing inside of us, this pride that says," I don't want to create anything that looks or resembles anything else that exists today," but that's an even bigger problem.

Speaker 1: Yeah. I get that though. If I spend all my time building something and I show it to you and you're like," Yeah, but how is this different than HipChat?"

Speaker 2: Yeah, nobody likes to hear that.

Speaker 1: Let's talk about examples of this.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Speaker 1: Slack is a great one. We talk about all the time.

Speaker 2: Slack's a perfect example. I think the easiest way to get across this point of innovate versus reinvent is, and I've done this internally, to use visual cues. By visual cues, I've used screenshots of different applications that are very popular today and then looked at what those things were based on existing patterns in the past. Slack's a perfect example. So I pulled up a screenshot of Slack today and I pulled up a screenshot of probably a few IRC clients, Internet Relay Chat for those who aren't old enough-

Speaker 1: For those non- OGs.

Speaker 2: ...non- OGs from 10 to 15 years ago. If you were to look at them side by side, and it's not until people look at them side by side do they say," Holy shit, they're exactly the same." I would point out here on Slack, here's where the channel list is. Here's where it is in IRC. Here's where the pin message is. Here's where you write texts. Here's how you do an emoji in either one. Here's how you do a DM. All the things that you use in, let's say something like Slack today, have been around. That exact layout has been around for at least 15 to 20 years, but people forget that. What Slack has done a brilliant job, an absolutely brilliant job of doing is innovating on the last 10%. They did not reinvent. They didn't say," Oh, we're going to have our new age chat, so it's going to look like no other chat has ever looked like in the history of man." No. They took a pattern that people already knew how to use, a pattern that was successful, and they innovated that last 10%, 20% on top of it and had amazing onboarding and amazing usability and just made it awesome. The important point there is because they did that, they did not have to reteach the world how to use the pattern.

Speaker 1: Yeah. That's a great point. The next thing I was going to ask you, and we were talking about this before we started recording, was the reason for innovation versus reinvent is not entirely because it's easier-

Speaker 2: No, not at all.

Speaker 1: ...it's because consumers like we, people, like I like to say, have muscle memory.

Speaker 2: Yes. So you have muscle memory on how these things work. Even if you've never used them before, the fact that they are successful patterns in terms of user interaction, works on top of some innate muscle memory that you have. Logically, you expect things to be laid out a certain way. Once those things are proven, you don't go and reinvent those. You see those in lots of things. How is Google Docs different than Word, different than WordPerfect? If you looked at them side by side by side, they will look exactly the same. How is Google spreadsheets different than Excel, different than Lotus 1- 2- 3. Side by side, they look and work exactly the same.

Speaker 1: I have an example that you shared with the team, which is like Outlook calendar versus Sunrise. It's the same.

Speaker 2: Yes. I did another example which is Google Calendar, Outlook calendar, Sunrise, and maybe a couple others. Side by side, there's literally no difference. The design is better. There's a lot of usability issues and that last 10% is very different on modern versions, but they work exactly the same. That's because, guess what? It's a calendar. Guess what? It's a spreadsheet. Guess what? It's a thing that people understand. If you are working on a thing that people already understand, let's take email for example, then you're going to want to make that look as much like the email that they're used to using, but just make it 10% better.

Speaker 1: How do you figure out which 10%? Let's say we just cloned this. We cloned Outlook. How do you figure out which 10% to innovate on?

Speaker 2: The easiest way is by talking to people who use that software today and digging in on frustrations that they have with that software. Most of them are going to be around usability. Then there're going to be some category of them that around just the way technology works. Maybe Outlook, for example, takes a really long time for it to sync, or maybe it uses too much disc space, or maybe whatever the case is, or maybe because I use Outlook, I have to sync two different machines and so syncing becomes a nightmare. Guess what? Gmail becomes a lot more friendly to you because now you don't have to worry about syncing. That's just a basic, frustrating thing that you could tease out easily by talking to people who use that software today.

Speaker 1: Also, just helps you get started. Especially if you're building something for business, you're going to get initial customers faster because you're working on an existing pattern. You're not inventing something from scratch.

Speaker 2: Exactly. Then you innovate on top of that. But you know, I think one thing that I always say to designers and to product people is you need to learn your history. Because a lot of people who are just starting to come into design now or come into product now have not lived through this history. They don't know where these patterns are based. The best thing to do is look back at history to understand why certain patterns worked and why certain patterns have stood the test of time, and it's with those tested patterns that you need to lean on versus trying to invent something totally different. There are going to be cases where people reinvent patterns. Snapchat is a great example. They've reinvented a lot of patterns that make no sense to most people, but that makes sense for the crowd that they're going after and at this point, what they were trying to do, but there are going to be very, very, very, very few snapshots.

Speaker 1: We talk a lot about reading books versus reading blog posts. Somebody that wrote a marketing book positioning like the Al Ries book, is 30 years old. The two core themes in that book are still the same today.

Speaker 2: Totally the same, yeah. When you said book, you just made me think of the way that Kindle works. If you look at a Kindle app or you look at a Kindle device, why does it work the way it does? Because it's a book. It's a book dummy, so it should look like and work like a book.

Speaker 1: It's funny how crosstalk.

Speaker 2: Obviously, they could have made it do anything.

Speaker 1: Right now, I'm reading the Amazon book and it's right at the part where they're talking about the Kindle. The first Kindle that they made had a keyboard on it. They were like," What book do you know has a keyboard on it?" The point of the Kindle, they were like," We need to make something that people don't even realize is in their hand. It's not about the Kindle, it's about the book."

Speaker 2: Book, yeah, and they make it pages flip like a book. There's bookmarks. There's numbering. There's highlights. There's everything that you would expect in a book. Obviously, they could have made that look nothing like a book. crosstalk

Speaker 1: Right. We're trying to reinvent the book, right?

Speaker 2: Exactly, yeah.

Speaker 1: Cool. All right.

Speaker 2: They innovated on the book.

Speaker 1: Lesson for today, a one sentence lesson is innovate.

Speaker 2: Don't reinvent. Avoid reinventing, focus on innovating, look at existing patterns that are successful and build on top of those.

Speaker 1: We talked about- crosstalk.

Speaker 2: You know the other reason that this is important?

Speaker 1: Why?

Speaker 2: Building on tested patterns is important because it helps the user feel successful using your software product. I've seen this all the time and I've been guilty of it. When we try to reinvent something or invent a new pattern, the most common thing that we see with users in testing is that it makes them feel stupid.

Speaker 1: Yeah, because you're like," Oh, I'm supposed to know how to use this."

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Speaker 1: We dealt with it here. Months ago, we had a dashboard. You just log in and people would not know what to do.

Speaker 2: Not know what to do because it didn't look like a dashboard that they were used to. We were trying to invent new patterns and they had no idea what to do, and so they felt dumb. What happens when software makes you feel dumb? You probably don't come back and use it.

Speaker 1: Also, the nice other thing that really ties into something we always talk about is this only works if you talk to people.

Speaker 2: Yes.

Speaker 1: You talk to customers.

Speaker 2: If you don't talk to customers, this is not going to work because you're not going to know. You're just going to have a copy at that point. You're not going to have an innovation.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Cool. All right. Make sure you go and give a review, seekingwisdom. io.

Speaker 2: Five stars only.

Speaker 1: Five stars only. The more reviews means the more that I convince my pal here to get on the mic and do more podcasts.

Speaker 2: Let's do it, five stars.

Speaker 1: Cool.


If you liked this episode, we bet that you’ll love our blog content. blog.drift.com/#subscribe Subscribe to never miss a post & join the 20,000+ other pros committed to getting better every day. --- There's one thing we always want to do when we build new things: invent them scratch. It's human nature. But it's actually a huge mistake to always try to invent new things. On this week's episode of Seeking Wisdom, we talk about innovation vs. invention, muscle memory, and how some of today's most successful products leverage patterns that we're all already familiar with. Follow David (twitter.com/dcancel) and Dave (twitter.com/davegerhardt) on Twitter. Subscribe on iTunes: bit.ly/SW-Podcast