As you know, in today's society, one data point is cause for discussion and two data points are a full on trend. I mention that because I have a sense that many consumers and the cognoscenti as well are beginning to get fed up with intricate, highly finished products that have too many features and bells and whistles that don't seem to add much value to a consumer. Yes, I'm looking at you Windows Vista.
What got me thinking about this was an article in September 2009 Wired magazine entitled the Good Enough Revolution, which is an article describing how the Flip Video camera zigged while the rest of the digital video providers zagged, and why Flip won. Basically, it recognized that people wanted video that they could quickly share and was simply "good enough" for replay or perhaps Youtube. They didn't need 999 megapixels with sophisticated lighting options and radical zoom, since they weren't going to Hollywood with the footage. The Flip was a stripped down, simple, small, pocket video camera that was limited to about an hour of video recoding, had no interchangable battery but was so simple my 9 year old can use it (and does on a regular basis).
The second data point was also provided by Wired magazine, which wrote in the November 2009 edition about Demand Media. Demand Media uses algorithms to assess what people want to learn about and then seeks independent writers and film producers to develop the content. Demand Media is the leading content provider to YouTube. The videos and writeups about how to change a lightbulb or how to eliminate unwanted facial hair are developed by amateurs who write, script and film videos or simple writeups for less than $20. Again, the concept is all about speed, low cost and "good enough" advice. We all know that if you are really going to remove difficult facial hair, you can either get cheap and "good enough" advice, or you can go see your dematologist for $400. So why not start on the cheap side?
Both of these articles point out that too often product and service firms fail to understand that for the most part we are "satisficing" agents. Other than hobbyists or perfectionists, most of us want to gain just enough insight or knowledge to get the job done. We don't want to be experts and don't have the mental capacity or time to become experts. Microsoft Word has thousands of features that may be important to some small minority of the population, but I'll never use them, and really can't be bothered to learn them. It might be interesting to see if Demand Media creates How To guides for software applications since the help functions are so ridiculously poor to begin with.
Further, most product developers overemphasize features. The Flip example goes on to note the "pixel" wars in digital cameras. At some point it didn't make sense to compete on the number of pixels anymore, but that's all the camera guys had in their arsenal. Flip countered with what appeared to be a weakness - limited pixels, but triumphed because of simplicity and low cost.
As Christensen and others have pointed out, many disruptions occur when the incumbent becomes too complacent and adds features (and costs) that its customers don't value and don't need. Disrupters spot the opportunities and provide products and services with less functionality and less cost, which the incumbent laughs off or ignores. Yes, I'm looking at you, 1970s GM. You and the other "Big Three" laughed off the imports until they ate your lunch. Why are we always surprised when history repeats itself?