May 07, 2009
Innovation vs. Affirmation
Nothing groundbreaking here, just an anecdote & observation.
Yesterday I bumped into Bill Hensler, Adobe’s VP of engineering for video products, and somehow conversation turned to his time as a Motorola intern back in the ’80s–back before even Gordon Gekko was rockin’ a mobile phone. “We did a lot of focus group research,” said Bill. “You know who wanted a mobile phone back then? Nobody. People would say, ‘Why would I want to be interrupted at a restaurant or a ball game? It’s bad enough when people call during dinner.'”
It’s easy to want customers to gift-wrap directions, and Adobe certainly puts rigor into its data-gathering process. (For example, teams go on the road & present customers with a list of potential features, then ask them to stack-rank the ideas, allocate $100 of engineering effort among them, etc.). That approach helps affirm one’s next couple of steps, but it’s obviously not a recipe for bold leaps. (“If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse,” noted Henry Ford.)
I mention this as someone who’s been advancing a few “crazy” ideas for some time, often to the sound of crickets. Sometimes, though, you’ve gotta say, “They’ll like us when we win.”