Strive to produce masterpieces, not me-toos.

The more solutions I see, the clearer it becomes that the true function of an innovator is to produce a masterpiece. No other job is of any consequence.

Any one can be an innovator. All one has to do is to introduce a new method, idea, or product. And yet, very few in my experience produce a work of outstanding artistry, skill, or workmanship to be worthy of recognition, let alone to be the best piece of work they are capable of producing.

Introducing something new is not enough. Neilsen estimates that 85% of new products are unsuccessful, having not achieved popularity, profit, or distinction. Do innovators devote significant time, effort, and energy — not to mention vast sums of money — to make something that, eventually, will succeed only one time in every fifteen?

Some believe this result is due to failures in marketing. They may be right in thinking so. Yet, all the market research and advertising in the world won’t matter if our solutions don’t help people to get an important job done better.

Others believe this outcome is due to failures in design. That may also be true. Yet, all the purpose, planning, and intention that exists behind our solutions won’t matter if they don’t help people to get an important job done better.

I believe the critical failure is in not knowing what the job is and in what ways to make solutions that help people to get the job done meaningfully better. In the absence of knowing this, innovator’s may default to the conventional wisdom of developing solutions that emulate a rival that has already been successful. These me-too products are a disservice to the production of masterworks. We incur an opportunity cost when we sacrifice the pursuit of creating our finest work with trying to surpass our competition by imitation and one-upmanship.

Historically, craftsmen would submit a piece of work — their masterpiece — as a qualification for membership to a guild as an acknowledged master. Today, we present our work to another judge — the market. Before we do so, let us look to notable thinkers, serial entrepreneurs, and marketers of successful products in our domain as our standard. Let us use their reference as our benchmark and ask, “Who would we have to be, or what would we have to do, to get the job their solutions are hired for done significantly better?”

Failures are inevitable. Failures are also solvable. Let us not fail by producing me-too products. That path is riddled with failures anyway. Let us instead act as craftsmen and strive to create something that is our best piece of work, something that is striking, worthy of attention, and of importance and significance.

Acknowledgements and Sources

In writing this piece, this quote from Cyril Connolly inspired me: 

“The more books we read, the clearer it becomes that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence.”

Cyril Connolly

The reference to new product failure rates comes from this Nielsen site: accessed October 17, 2017.

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