When innovating, companies usually focus on making their products easier to obtain, easier to learn and easier to use. Unless “ease-of-use” is the primary benefit or selling proposition of your offering, this thinking will hinder your innovation efforts. Of course, ease of use is a good thing, but it’s the tail, not the dog.
The primary driver for any innovation should be the improvement in the experience you offer or the degree to which your new offering is better than the idea it replaces. This relative advantage is your “Experience Delta” and maximizing the Experience Delta should trump any other consideration when you are trying to create new value. The larger the Experience Delta, the more impact your innovation will have with your users.
Many factors help an innovation become successful. The well-known elements are (1) complexity (less is better); (2) compatibility (the more compatible it is with existing values, the better); (3) trialability (the easier it is for users to trial your offering, the better) and (4) observability (the more apparent your benefits are, the better).
But as long as your relative advantage or Experience Delta is high, your innovation has the best chance of becoming successful.
From Automobiles to the Personal Computer
Many of the most important innovations have increased complexity, but the Experience Delta they offer is so massive that the increases in complexity became irrelevant. For example, when automobiles were first introduced, driving a car was a complex undertaking, with recurrent breakdowns, unsuitable roads, lack of fuel availability and flat tires being a near-daily occurrence. Not to mention the learning curve in learning how to drive a new car.
However, the Experience Delta between the experience of traveling by car over walking or riding a horse was so vast that it more than adequately overcame the complicated drawbacks.
When Personal Computers first came out, they were too hard to use. The influential Wall Street Journal tech columnist, Walt Mossberg in 1991, wrote an article reassuring users that it wasn’t their fault that personal computers were hard to use. If it weren’t for the enormous benefits that PC’s brought to the world, no one in their right mind would want to subject themselves to the pain and the vagaries of learning how to use the device. Once again, the positive Experience Delta trumped the very negative and complex learning curve.
Don’t Get Caught in the Ease of Use Trap:
Companies are often caught in a trap where they are hesitant to let an innovation negatively affect the ease of use. Yes, if the benefits of the innovation are marginal, then ease of use is a significant issue, but the greater the benefits of the innovation, the less weight other considerations have in its overall success.
So, when innovating, make sure you can articulate a very clear and substantial Experience Delta of your new solution over current offerings. If you can do that, your innovation efforts are on the right track, even if your new idea requires a steep learning curve.