Survival of the fittest, not fastest

This was originally intended for Admap, but ended up somewhere on the cutting room floor:

Darwinian natural selection has never been more apparent in our industry, but we must overcome our predilection with “shiny new things” to add real long term value to our clients businesses

Innovation has become a term so grossly over used that is has begun to lose meaning. A byword for anything new, technology orientated or creative. An ill-defined imperative that is forcing new layers on to media and driving an output that reacts to shifts in technology over  consumer insight and experience.

In the age of the empowered, connected consumer, brands need to fundamentally change the way they behave to gain cut through. People are not just receptacles for messaging thrust upon them from the plinth of mass media platforms. They are now our creators, our distribution channel and our judge, jury and executioner.

Innovation provides a means to cut through and a way to create impact by doing things differently. A way to talk to people amidst the increasing noise levels.

We’re told it should be baked into the core of every organisation. Like with start-up culture, it tells us to be agile and fleet of foot. “Move fast and break things” as the Zuckerberg aphorism says that is etched on the walls of Facebook HQ.

After all, the rate of technological progression has never been faster and its pace is unrelenting.

But perhaps the relationship between velocity and innovation has been misinterpreted.

As Ajaz Ahmed said ‘It’s good to be first. It’s better to be good. It’s best to both’

The fear is that we have created a culture that rewards coming first over one that rewards being good.

By Darwin’s logic, those who evolved first often did so with imperfection and thus became prone to obsolescence.

The same can be said of brands – Apple certainly weren’t the first to invent the tablet computer or even the touchscreen. But the iPad was fit for purpose because beyond technology, it had consumer led design and usability at its core. The Apple Newton however, was less of a success.

Conversely Microsoft launched a Web TV service in the mid-1990s, because technology presented the opportunity, not because of any marked shift in consumer behaviour. Suffice to say, it doesn’t exist today.

Clever brands iterate. Build a skeleton and layer the rest on from user testing and feedback. We see this with product development – Made by Many’s Picle was a great example of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) testing, placing a functioning prototype without any whistles and bells into the consumer space then up scaling based on the feedback loop gained from consumer use.

In prioritising first over best we employ the type of short termism that looks like a little spike, rather than a long curve of growth.

I always refer back to futurologist Roy Amara’s law when scaling opportunity – ‘we tend to overestimate the effect of technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run’ – it’s very easy to forget to be meaningful when blinded by the light of shiny technological objects.

Innovation doesn’t need to be the singular big thing – the costly firework that lacks longevity. What really matters is the long idea or the stream of little ideas that tap in to a meaningful shift in behaviour. And this is the slow burner that is moved by people and not Moore’s Law. So why so fast?