When too much becomes too bad in Innovation.
I remember when I bought it.. it was a professional keyboard-synthesizer. I have saved for a while to afford it. I was 16 years old and keen to play some progressive rock with my rock band. The model of my keyboard was exactly the same as the one Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright played. Awesome! The thing was worth about $2,200 dollars constant price as for today.
Then the time came when I had to learn how to use it. Of course. And there was it. A user guide comprising two thick volumes. Books the size of a normal notebook about 22 by 28cm. Oh my god… That much?
Well, Kurzweil™ is a serious brand of keyboards and pianos. You got it. Richard Wright from Pink Floyd used it.
And I started literally studying the guide. It had so many features. Not worthy to mention but in these devices you can “develop” your own sounds, a task which requires knowledge about musical stuff such as attack, layers, pitch, and so on. The keyboard had already a bank of more than 200 distinct sounds. Accurate and fine sounding samples of strings, pianos, wind instruments and percussions etc.
Also, you can program sequences (loops) to play on top of them live, and you will sound like an entire orchestra.
After being overwhelmed with so many features and details, I took the basics – what I really needed- and started just using whatever was already there. And it was enough.
Of course, I was 16 years old in a band with other 19 years old guys. What else could I need?
Guess what? We were doing some covers of Pink Floyd, Rush and Marillion. And? All the sounds the keyboard players of these big fish bands were using for their famous songs were the same ones I had in my little Kurzweil. Exactly the same sounds. This means that the famous keyboardists of those huge bands were doing just like me. Choosing the sounds for their songs from the “catalog” of samples in their keyboards.
I have to point out that the value this brand offers, Kurzweil, is its accuracy in the samples. Non-professional ears wouldn’t distinguish in a professionally mixed song whether natural or synthesized violins were used. What I’m saying here is that those famous professional keyboard players were after the sounds itself, not after the possibility of “generate” your own sounds in the keyboard. Neither the sequencing function as they were members of a big rock band, not soloists. Finally, that particular model, the Kurzweil K2000 – that I still own – was one the company’s lower offers.
Well, I just watched the movie “boyhood”. Starring Ethan Hawke. The movie is about how the life of a boy develops from his 6th to his 18th birthday. The plot is somehow based on the education system in the US, which lasts about 12 years.
For this project, the director Richard Linklater went for what we could call an “ambitious approach”. Instead of going with the standard and hiring distinct actors of different ages to portray the passing of time in the movie, he would take twelve real years shooting the movie, as its main role actor would grow old. Twelve years. Wow! That required some patience I guess. And apparently this was the first attempt of its kind.
There you had an amazing ambitious project.
When the time to launch the movie came, it was everywhere. It rose so many expectations from the film making community. Of course! Everyone was looking forward to witness the result of such an endeavour. Things went on that direction and with it, expectations for the movie about reigning in the Oscars award ceremony. Critics, journalists and public were expecting it to win everything.
And then the awaited day came. The Oscars were awarded. And our movie didn’t win. “Boyhood” didn’t win as many Oscars as people were expecting. It was nominated for 6. It took home one. What?
Ok. Have you watched the movie?
Here we have another case we can compare to those of “too much innovation”. Or ambition, perhaps.
The fact that they would wait 12 years to shoot the movie in such a realistic way rose huge interest. Great. But then there was the movie.
An. Absolutely. Normal. Movie.
I dare to say that had the director taken the normal approach and used three different actors in different ages for the main role, people would have just liked the movie as much as they liked it with the same kid growing old in 12 unbelievable real years. A movie is a movie, right? It has to tell a story, and then it has to tell it in an interesting way. Whatever above that, is on a 2nd level. So this “great” idea of waiting the 12 years to show the same person growing old…. Well, who cares? Just tell me what happened to the guy in the movie at the end. Please.
Can you imagine the feeling of the director? He might say he was not after the awards, but hey! I bet he would be happy with more of those. “So much time waiting and so much effort put on that for just one Oscar?”
Nowadays this happens often. How many features of you mobile you don’t use regularly? Mine has a lot of those. In many electronic devices we have this issue. Even in cars. And different kind of stuff.
This is the peril of linear (or sustaining) innovation. Technically speaking, it can be the case that this addition of functions happens at marginal costs to the developing and manufacturing companies, so there is no harm in adding them. Sometimes it comes at a greater costs. Sometimes it all comes by mere design. But few times it comes from a deep understanding of what consumers really, really need.
This example might be out timed, but I still think the movie is a great case study for this topic, in which innovation for the sake of innovation is mistaken for true value-adding and real problem-solving. It can fire back. So bear it in mind.
Understand what your consumers need, and don’t let this happen.