Balancing Cool with Necessity

August 5, 2009 by
Filed under: Leadership 

Very often, for an established business or for one struggling to enter an existing market space, the biggest challenge is how to balance those features which are expected in that domain of products with those that will set the business apart from the competition. How well that tightrope is walked often makes or breaks the perceived value of the product, and sometimes the overall success of business.

To be a true breakout product, even in a crowded space, there needs to be some sort of attractive differentiation. Apple nailed it with the iPhone a couple of years ago, and is still managing to stand out from the crowd even as the competition races to catch up. To do this with their first foray into the cellular market was nothing short of spectacular, but being new to the market was actually advantageous to them: they weren’t thinking in the same stagnating space as the others were.

Palm was the first vendor to really break out of the PDA space, stepping out even past the contributions from Apple (anyone still have their Newton?), and creating a new gotta-have-it space that they thrived in for years. With their bare-bones OS, comfortable form factor and an understanding that it is easier to train the user than the machine for handwriting recognition, Palm had nailed it, too.

These days, though, as PDAs and cell-phones have now become part of the same smart-phone device, Palm finds itself as merely one in a number of also-rans, lagging RIM and Apple by wide margins. They have the necessary features in place, but that’s not enough to put them at the head of the pack. These days more than ever, if you are standing still, you are falling behind.

On the other side of the coin, there’s not much that will diminish your share of the market faster than failing to deliver what is expected from the marketplace. PM training that isn’t at least compliant with the PMBoK is an example of this (though I see this as a bare minimum, and there is far more to explore in this space), and for products, reasonable performance and reliability (or at least reasonably managed user expectations) is a necessity. My experience with on-board entertainment systems on aircraft suggests there is an opportunity here to usurp the current products, which appear unnecessarily slow to respond, and often need to be rebooted.

Whether you are providing a service or a product, the rules of the game are the same. You need to provide what is expected to survive, and on top of that you have to be compellingly different to thrive. Finding and maintaining the right balance of these two elements will deliver outstanding products, and managing that balance needs to be a conscious activity. – JB

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