Town Square’s chief strategy officer, Jeff Malone (lead image), delves into tech’s notorious misfires like the Segway and Google Glasses that end up as cultural punchlines…
I’m not going to say that I’m good at predicting the future, but I once stole a theory from someone who was. This person was trying to explain why some innovations are destined to become cultural punchlines, instead of the revolutionary leaps forward for humanity they were promised to be. Now, it doesn’t work for every new product, but anything within spitting distance of words like ‘game changer’ or ‘paradigm-shift’ is a good start. Think Google Glass, hoverboards, 3D TV, NFTs and, soon to join the club, the Metaverse.
Take the Segway. Back in 2001, Steve Jobs, who’d just launched the iPod six weeks earlier, predicted these scooters would prove to be even more significant than the personal computer. And he didn’t stop there. One day, he said, whole cities would be designed around them.
That obviously didn’t happen. But why? Segway’s tech was impressive and the product met a need, even if there were alternatives. Looking back at the post-mortems, there’s no shortage of smart people celebrating their hindsight – it was the CEO… the price tag… the lack of focus on a single application. But questionable CEOs are no barrier to successful products (see Tesla), people routinely spend obscene amounts of money on products not worth the cost (see Fyre Festival), and lots of successful innovations don’t need to tell people when to use them (see iPod).
So, what was it? Why are some products doomed from the start? It’s easy and safe to assign blame afterwards. But how can you tell if a product will fail before it fails? How can you predict the future? Well, here you go…
Just ask yourself – how stupid will I look using this thing?
Picture yourself sitting on your couch wearing goofy sunglasses just to watch the Beckham documentary. Or rolling your way to work on your electric lectern as you try to navigate pedestrians and curbs. Or trying to explain to someone why your Bored Ape NFT is somehow way cooler and more valuable than the exact same jpeg saved on a hard drive. If you’re honest, and capable of objectivity, you already know how ridiculous you’ll look.
I’m not saying it’s fool proof, but for anyone in product innovation, it’s a good question to ask yourself if you want to avoid a legacy punctuated by giggles and questions like ‘seriously?’
Or don’t. Because as much as I might want to help save people from career-ending inventions, I think we can all agree the world would be an emptier place without wonders like the Shake Weight, the Nintendo Power Glove and of course Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse avatar.
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