Monday, February 1, 2010

An Example of Incremental Thinking...

Three or four years ago, when I was still working at Cisco Systems, I was involved with a number of projects looking at next-generation communications and collaboration. At this point, we were well past the early technologies that we created in 1998. We were spending much of our time thinking about the new ways that people were interacting through Social Media, Interactive 3D worlds, and through Contextual Content. We thought about Mobility and Video and how this would change the thinking about a workspace and interactions with co-workers and customers.

And then one day, we went to a meeting with the group focused on new communication devices. The "next-generation" of IP Telephones. Throughout the meeting, they tried to tell us that they were creating new types of "end-points", but the focus kept coming back to telephone functionality. We tried to tell these engineers, designers and product managers that they needed to stop thinking about the device as phone-centric. We told them to think about it as being a communications portal, where voice was just one of the things it could do. Thinking about it as primarily a phone would only lead to an incremental set of features.

Much to my dismay, I saw this today as I surfed the Cisco homepage. After three years of engineering, and at least two years of watching the iPhone change the communications landscape, they still produced a phone.

Somewhere I'm sure there is a Product Manager with a spreadsheet showing a justification the ROI for making incremental changes. And that spreadsheet is probably right next to this new device that looks eerily similar to my Asus Eee PC netbook. And as Steve Jobs reminded us last week, "a netbook is not better at anything...".

Innovation is difficult. But I've found that breaking the mold of Incremental Thinking is even more difficult.
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