You created it, but can you explain it?

by Bruce Kasanoff on September 28, 2011

Over at Apple, the App Store now has more than 472,000 apps. That’s a lot of innovation.

Tech start-ups continue to pop up, despite the economy. If anything, it’s gotten cheaper to launch start-ups; two or three founders can often get a beta version running.

But can these folks explain their innovations? How many of the 472,000 apps ever get noticed?

The hard part is explaining why anyone should care about your new app, company or product. Even when you find a customer, they often use just 10% of your new capabilities.

Bob Dorf, my former partner, used to say that the way companies use innovative technologies is often like using a freight train to deliver a cartoon of eggs.

In other words, customers often use a new technology to automate the way they have always done things, instead of taking advantage of the innovation’s true capabilities.

You can prevent such outcomes by working harder to understand how customers live and work. Many innovators skip that step.

The New York Times has a wonderful interview with Dr. Paul Polak, a 78-year-old former psychiatrist who is highly focused on using innovation to solve the problems of the very poor.

In 1981, he said, ā€œIā€™m going to interview 100 $1-a-day families every year, come rain or shine, and learn from them first.ā€ He’s done that ever since, and averages six hours with each family, joining them at work and home, doing his best to understand their world and their challenges.

If you commit to this level of understanding and interaction, you will be able to not only develop products that customers really need, but you will also be able to explain how your innovations meet their needs.

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