On Companies and Products Staying Relevant

Companies often create blindspots for themselves when they use research or data science with the myopic view of market validation, since this info is inherently biased towards what people already understand. They chase the short-term value of building a better commodity and cementing their existing position, because they dislike being in the ambiguous position of investing resources in a product that might never ship or see a payoff. Other companies with market leading positions sometimes console themselves by thinking it would be too costly for customers to uproot them and switch to a competitor. This can be a trap, because whereas the disruptor is able to move fast to close gaps in their product, the larger incumbent's delayed reaction risks them not having enough time to catch up because they have many more dependencies to resolve.

Engelbart's talk Improving Our Ability to Improve, covers this topic in detail, and has a lot of seemingly obvious advice that more companies ought to follow. While worth reading in its entirety, here are some parts that resonated with me that I think are important for product teams to value to extend their half-life:

Invest actively in value the market doesn't see yet

Listen to the market to make your product more attractive for customers or to hold your position (make your commodity better), but to remain relevant in the future, you need to also consciously invest in parallel to build what your market doesn’t understand yet (expand outside the commodity that’ll likely be disrupted by something cheaper/better).

Oxymoron: "Market Intelligence." [...] The "market" assumes the dimensions of faceless, impersonal deity, punishing economically inefficient solutions and rewarding the economically fit. We believe in the wisdom of the market and belief that it represents a collective intelligence that surpasses the understanding of us poor mortal players in the market's great plan.

[...] In any case, it is quite clear that whatever it is that the market "knows," its knowledge is fundamentally conservative in that it only values what is available today. Markets are, in particular, notoriously poor judges of value for things that are not currently being bought and sold. In other words, markets do a bad job at assessing the value of innovation when that innovation is so new that it will actually rearrange the structure of the markets.

Don't let ease-of-use limit utility and performance

While you might chase the benefits of ease of use, don’t discount the common-sense payoff that users get in terms of performance when they have to learn some things every once-in-a-while, that translate to muscle memory/ superpowers thereafter.

Going back to my tricycle/bicycle analogy, it is clear that for an unskilled user, the tricycle is much easier to use. But, as we know, the payoff from investing in learning to ride on two wheels is enormous.