Last Friday, I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues over a delicious Indian meal in Mumbai. He was describing a novel tourism strategy he had recently read about.
“These places brand themselves ‘eco-tourism’,” he said as he chowed down on his channa masala. “Then they can shove you in a basic room with no air conditioning, TV, or room service and charge you $300. Bitten by mosquitoes? That’s just part of the back-to-nature experience!”
The eco tourism hotels turned a set of flaws — rugged rooms and mosquitoes — into features that could command price premiums.
“Only in India,” my colleague said with a smile.
Actually, turning a flaw into a feature is a time honored tradition in the software industry. The software industry saw, “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature” dates back at least to the mid-’80s. Turning bugs into features is also a critical skill of the would-be disruptive innovator.
The heart of disruptive innovation is the intentional trade-off — sacrificing raw performance in the name of simplicity, convenience, or affordability. The trick is finding the customer who embraces this trade-off because they consider existing solutions to be too expensive or too complicated.
In other words, disruption is almost always a strategic choice. Companies with a would-be disruption on their hands have to carefully consider their target customer.
Consider, for example, what would have happened if Procter & Gamble had tried to sell its Swiffer line of quick cleaning products to people obsessed with deep cleaning. Those consumers would have looked at a product designed to clean without sweating as inferior. In fact, Swiffer initially struggled in markets like Italy where consumers considered sweating an integral part of the cleaning process!
Instead, P&G sought customers who embraced simplicity, because often their choice wasn’t a deep clean or a quick clean, it was a quick clean or no clean at all. The “flaw” of light cleaning was a “feature” to the simplicity seekers.
My wife was ecstatic when we got our first Swiffer, in 2000. The Swiffer was easy enough that she could entice her reluctant cleaning partner (that’s me!) to help out. After we had children, we noticed how P&G cleverly designed the Swiffer so that children could participate in cleaning as well. Our two-year-old is a little too enthusiastic with her Swiffer.
Scott D. Anthony is managing director of Innosight Asia-Pacific.