Sunday, November 22, 2009

"We tried that and it didn't work?"

"We've already tried something like that and it does not work."

One of the most difficult challenges of innovation is knowing when to discard an idea or hypothesis because "it does not work." Sometimes, a change in the external environment, such as the launch of Apple's iPhone Apps Store, can cause a piece of software suddenly become valuable.  And sometimes, the addition of what is seemingly a small tweak to a product can transform a "ho-hum"product into something revolutionary.

I was reminded of this the other night when Mari and I were touring the Terra Cotta Warriors at National Geographic.  I noticed that the horses on display, dating from 350 BC, had saddles without stirrups.  They had bridles, bits, and reins, but no stirrups.

By this time, saddles had been around for about 4,000 years, with few design changes.  Around 200 BC,  someone tweaked the saddle by adding a wood "backbone" that helped distribute weight across the horses's back and reduce fatigue.  The saddle itself was a significant but not overwhelming advantage for its users.  Finally, after about another five hundred years someone in the Jin dynasty in China decided to hang stirrups off the saddle.

This minor "tweak" to a saddle was revolutionary.  Some credit this tweak as being "one of the basic tools used to create and spread modern civilization.  Some argue that it is as important as the wheel or printing press."

This left me wondering what could be the most revolutionary minor tweak to our existing features on GlobalGiving.