Don’t try to predict the future, go out and invent it – Lessons from Twitter, Facebook and the first iPod
The hype around Apple’s latest product, the iPad is ongoing and every pundit has given us reasons why the iPad will be a total success or why it will be total failure. We love these discussions, but they are a waste of time. There is simply no correct answer at this point in time whether the iPad will be a success or not. But that is exactly why everyone loves to talk about that since everybody can be right and everybody can be wrong. Just like discussions about religion, the performance of Mac computers vs. PCs, BMW vs. Audi – there is not right or wrong and that’s why we put so much passion into these discussions.
If you want to innovate, you should prevent such discussions because they lead nowhere. Of course there is a difference between a well-founded feedback session and polemic argument, but even the value of feedback is limited when you are truly innovating. Could anyone have imagined a situation like the one below?
Who would have thought that one day we would be communicating 140 characters at a time? At least not Mike Arrington, founder of Techcrunch, the largest technology blog online, who wrote in his first post about Twitter (which was still called Twttr at that time):
There is also a privacy issue with Twttr. Every user has a public page that shows all of their messages. Messages from that person’s extended network are also public. I imagine most users are not going to want to have all of their Twttr messages published on a public website.
If this was a new startup, a one or two person shop, I’d give it a thumbs up for innovation and good execution on a simple but viral idea.
But the fact that this is coming from Odeo makes me wonder – what is this company doing to make their core offering compelling? How do their shareholders feel about side projects like Twttr when their primary product line is, besides the excellent design, a total snoozer?
Today Twitter has become a global phenomen with 75+ million users and aims to become the number one platform for real-time conversations on the web.
Apple is the company that usually receives pretty bad feedback when they are releasing new products. Let’s have a look at the first comments about the iPod in the MacRumours forums, the number one outlet for Apple news:
Great just what the world needs, another freaking MP3 player. Go Steve! Where’s the Newton?!
I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently!
Why oh why would they do this?! It’s so wrong! It’s so stupid!
We have all experienced the revolution of the music industry that was triggered by the iPod. Not much more needs to be said.
Fortunately, Marc Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, did not listen to his Harvard Professor’s recommendation either, who told him sincerely, that it doesn’t make sense to further pursue Facebook.
Of course, at that time I thought that social networking sites were a complete waste of time — both for the users and those developing the sites — so I earnestly tried to talk Mark out of squandering his precious Harvard education on such a frivolous endeavor. "You think you’re going to compete against Friendster and Orkut?" was the general outline of my argument. There were already too many social networking sites out there, I claimed, and building yet another one was clearly a waste of time. After all, didn’t he want to graduate? And make an A in CS161 while he was at it?
What is the key take away?
Nobody can predict the future and even the "experts" will never fully grasp the impact of some innovations when they where interacting with them the first time. You will always find somebody who can give you hundreds of reasons why it will not work. But the goal is not to find the idea that is not facing any obstacles – the goal is to find an idea that is worth overcoming these obstacles.
But maybe even more important: What does it mean when even pundits fail to predict the success of breakthrough products and services like Twitter, the iPod and Facebook? How much can you really trust the naysayers?
Innovation leaders and entrepreneurs need to be aware of this, ignore the pundits and focus on building traction for their ideas. While others are discussing, the leaders are acting. And even though one might fail, only by trying to invent the future you can achieve success. Solely discussing and predicting what the future might hold will never lead to a different future.
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