Black Swan Farming

Relaxing constraints, moving mountains

A sorely underutilised way to tilt the playing field in Product Development is to simply break the rules that everyone else is playing by. This “thinking different” is often the underlying enabler to many successful products and business models. Southwest did it with completely ridiculous turnaround times, which completely changed the economics of running an airline. AirBnB are doing it today, with the once-upon-a-time crazy idea that people would do short-term rentals of their homes.

Apple did it too, with the original iPhone in 2007, in the process bringing to market the most successful product ever. Someone who worked at RIM shared how the Blackberry maker and Microsoft responded:

Everyone was utterly shocked. RIM was even in denial the day after the iPhone was announced with all hands meets claiming all manner of weird things about iPhone: it couldn’t do what they were demonstrating without an insanely power hungry processor, it must have terrible battery life, etc. Imagine their surprise when they disassembled an iPhone for the first time and found that the phone was battery with a tiny logic board strapped to it. It was ridiculous, it was brilliant.

Apple is quite prepared to spend significants amounts of money to break the rules. As this techpinions article from Tim Bajarin explains:

No matter what tiny design adjustment Jony Ive and his team ask the supply chain and manufacturing teams to give them, they somehow are able to accommodate the design teams.

In many other companies, it is the other way around. A design team will come up with a product idea and, most of the time, they are forced to create that product around what existing materials and equipment are available. These types of limitations impact innovation.

As I’ve written before, Product Development is all about trade-offs. Steve Jobs had a deep understanding of this and no doubt this wisdom has been embedded in the company he built. Many of constraints we face are more flexible than we realise, but some do take a huge amount of effort and money to budge. Every time we find a way to relax those constraints new possibilities emerge. The playing field has been altered and we now have a new set of trade-offs to deal with, new decisions to make.

As Bajarin highlights, it tends to be Jonny Ive who is lauded and worshipped for his design skills, but there are a whole host of people in the supply chain and manufacturing that figure out ways to break the normal constraints, providing the freedom for Jonny and his team to move more freely. Tiny adjustments in design that are enabled by others who are moving mountains.

From that RIM employee again:

They did something amazing that many very prominent people in the industry thought was either impossible or at least a decade away, and they did it in a disgustingly short time frame.

Don’t just make the trade-offs and optimise within today’s constraints. Figure out which constraints can be moved. This is how we bring the future forward.